Almost every church has a small group system. Whether it is Sunday morning before worship or some sort of meet-in-homes model, small groups are important to the life of a church. It is where community happens, true fellowship happens, food poisoning happens, and doing life together happens. It is also one of the places that the church is most vulnerable to division.
So, like the unwieldy toddler that one couple brought to group even though they weren’t supposed to, let’s tear through the living room waving three red flags that should alert you that your small group is going rogue!
When your group contains mostly ex-members.
When you look around and notice that none of these people go to your church anymore, that should be a big red flag. Why are we still meeting together under church A, when you all go to church at churches B through L?
There’s no reason that friendships shouldn’t continue after families leave churches and churches that get into the business of regulating members’ friendships don’t usually keep people around that long (been there, done that, aaaaand quit). But think about it for a second. Most churches have some sort of small group system. Shouldn’t you get to know the people you worship with?
If God has truly called you to a new church, it probably has something to do with the relationships He wants you to have at that church. So finding a new small group at your new church is a healthy thing. I’d say if you don’t want to start new relationships then don’t change churches.
There is a disregard for leadership’s authority
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a group leader say to me, “Our group just feels like we should be studying something else, so we’re going to do _______.” While most parents love it when their teenager tells them that they’re going to set their own curfew and ignore the one given to them, churches have no right to get bent out of shape about it, do they? Because that is the same disregard for authority.
If you’ve given your groups permission to do their own thing, that’s one thing (and it requires GREAT discipleship of your leaders), but most churches have a paid pastor that decides the spiritual content and direction of the church’s education.
I’m mostly talking about group leaders that have been given content but have refused to stick to it. An immature leader always thinks they are ready for something harder or greater than they’ve been given to study. This leader is a poorly discipled leader. Groups with poorly discipled leaders that choose their own adventure usually end up in the deep weeds of theology somewhere; lost, nervously taking that rest you know you shouldn’t because you are being tracked by Velociraptors.
I’ve been known to bend the rules a time or two myself, but if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that two visions is di-vision.
Groups with no regard for authority are really on an expedition for comfort theology. They want to find Bible studies and issues that tell them what they already think. This isn’t growth, it’s ego inflation.
First talk to the group leader in private and let them know that we’re all staying on the same page. Listen to the ideas and consider them, but at the end of the day, make sure that the leader knows that it is not her place to choose curriculum and do her own thing. If the behavior continues, I believe in the three-strike rule. The first conversation was once, the next time it’s a stronger reminder that you’re not kidding around.
If the behavior continues, then you can bet this person has an authority issue and does not need to serve on your team. I believe people can change. Sometimes, I even hold on too long to hope that they will, so I’ve given myself this rule. After all, this is the kingdom of God we’re talking about.
The group becomes openly critical of the church or leadership.
If your group is willing to openly gripe about the church or its leadership, that should be a flag. There is certainly a place for constructive criticism, and that place is the ear of the one you are criticizing.
Spilling negativity in a small group is almost always a bad idea. Unless the pastor shows up and asks to have an honest brainstorm session or in some way solicits the opinions of your small group, it should not be a topic of open discussion.
Some churches go too far with this. They censor all feedback uniformly. This too is a poisonous practice and it smacks of leadership with an ego that is far too fragile and will one day ruin that leader or the church.
Sometimes the presence of inappropriate negative criticism is that the pathway isn’t clear. Either the people are ignorant of the methods available or it has been made very clear that all dissenting opinions will be ignored.
I once worked in a place with one such an unhealthy system. Any criticism was seen as insubordination and those who spoke up were quickly “called to other churches” thereafter.
So if you start to hear a lot of rumbling coming out of a small group, it may be time to visit that group and have an open and honest conversation. I’d start by talking to the group leader and finding out what’s going on in the group and set up a time to answer the concerns raised. After that, if the grumbling continues, I’d say it’s time for some church discipline. Believe it or not, it’s actually the job of ministers to instruct our people on right behavior. Don’t ever be afraid of losing people because you did the right thing (Gal. 6:9). Jesus wasn’t (Jn 6:66). Side note: odd the address and content of that verse, right?
You’ve probably seen small groups go rogue too. What are some flags that I didn’t mention? Feel free to discuss in the comments.