Why Small Groups Fail

By Doug Franklin February 10, 2023

Small groups fail because most small group leaders are not consistent over the long haul. Youth
pastors need to remember that the goal isn’t to have a small group program but to help
students grow in their relationship with Christ. I honestly think that small groups are a great
idea, and I think that every youth pastor should have a small group program in their ministry.
But when I am out meeting with youth pastors and small group leaders, I hear the same things:
groups start with a bang and within a few months, things begin to fall apart.

The truth is, we love the idea of small groups, and we see the benefits of them, but we don’t
know how to sustain them over the long haul.

Small group failures are costly—students lose interest, group jealousy begins as some groups
flourish and others break apart, and students leave youth group because their small group
leader doesn’t care. A good small group ministry requires the full attention and creativity of a
youth pastor and not just in August and September, but year-round. If you think it’s hard now,
wait until spring.

Ideas on sustaining your small group program.

Here are a few ideas on sustaining your small group program:

Do bi-monthly evaluations of all small groups. Check three critical areas:

Focus of group—Is the focus social or spiritual? If the focus is social, the group is headed
for trouble.

Content—Is the Bible study relevant to students’ lives that are in the group? Too often
youth pastors use the same curriculum for all their groups. I don’t understand what
freshman boys and senior girls have in common. Don’t be lazy, be creative. Create
curriculum that will engage with students.

Attendance—Students will only go if it’s beneficial. If attendance dips over a period of a
month, see point 2 about content. Have a rescue team ready. This may be you or other
youth ministry vets from your staff. (It’s good to have a male and female on this team.)
The rescue team may need to change leaders, meeting times, or group focus, or may
need to change the student mix in the group. Tip: be quick to respond because once you
lose a group, the damage is done.

Give your staff tools that help them develop relationships with students. Seminars and training
materials can be effective. In fact, here at LeaderTreks, we have some great seminars and
trainings that can help.

More importantly, I think small group leaders need goals. Sit down with each leader and give
them a vision for their small group and how it supports the goals of the whole ministry. Write
the goals down and keep staff accountable to the mission of their small group. Don’t do small
groups if it’s just something you are going to put on your resume and don’t do it because the
other guys in town are doing it. Do it because you believe that it’s the best tool you have to
bring the truth of Jesus into the hearts of your students

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More