When Your Small Group Isn’t Going Well

FH - Small GroupOur time together started out strong: these beautiful women who came enthusiastic for hope and eager for practical resources. We were a healthy mixture of mamas and nanas and career folks, all excited about gathering in community with women who “get us,” connecting as only women can.

A few were making fairly quick changes in their lives, all based on the godly truths we’d been studying together.

It was our fifth week in a run of twelve that I noticed it. How some of those who had promised to faithfully connect buckled to the temptation, swapping this time for themselves for the more important things.

As weeks passed, the group wondered, prayed, and even clawed a little to hold onto our intimacy, lifting up those who had been pulled away by full lives. But the group of closely knit women continued to shrink.

Outreach failure; it’s hard not to take it personal.

Maybe you’ve felt it too? The disappointment and discouragement that comes when your connections fizzle, when best-laid plans fail, and when things don’t progress the way you think they should. Maybe you’ve chased all the latest ideas for growing your groups, or reaching out to others, and your doubt is centering inward and you find yourself wondering if you’re even cut out for this.

Consider this: maybe it’s not you, after all. Maybe under this surface of life, there’s a lot of stuff tucked in the hearts of women these days that can keep them from consistently connecting—even though it’s the very thing they crave.

So how do we do this? How do we connect? How do we consistently encourage those who desperately long for encouragement but who are pressed by a lack of time?

A few years on the other side of meeting with those beautiful women, I’ve done it a few more times. Gathered hearts together in a loving, safe environment where we could chat about the things that folks don’t always say out loud. And each time I do it, I’m learning these things that help.

While I don’t subscribe to a systematic approach for knitting hearts close, I will share these ideas with you in the hopes they may somehow refresh your own efforts.

1. Authentic Investment. To foster a lasting connection with women, open yourself up in a transparent, meaningful way. Be honest—not just about your triumphs but about the trials that led you there. Concentrate on both godly truths and personal relationship. And don’t be afraid to set aside the agenda some nights—maybe have a full night of prayer ministry for one another, or a night of celebration.

2. Progression and Anticipation. Create a culture for forward strides, even if you start with baby steps. Always be moving forward. And in the spirit of forward motion, always be transferring an enthusiasm for “what’s next” to your group. A forward-focused group tends to be an exciting place.

3. Fun Times. Maybe that should read “bring chocolate.” I believe those who pray together should party together. Do something just for fun once in a while. Create shared memories. {If you’re an online group, take photos.}

4. Engage.  Connect individually. We all want to feel known, accepted. Reach out to those who miss, filling them in. Draw out the quieter ones in the group. When appropriate, encourage contact within and outside of the group environment.

5. Community Projects. After you create an environment that serves their needs, encourage them to do the same. Switch from an inward focus to reaching out, helping others by doing a project together as a group.

Small group success as we sometimes gauge it can be misleading. As encouragers, our identities do not lie in these numbers we reach—that’s a work only God can do. It’s the spiritual, emotional, and relational growth that matters, regardless of how many of us are growing together. I’ll pray that truth for your tender heart, and you feel free to remind me of that on those days my doubt tempts.

How about you? Are you a woman who encourages others? What ways have you found to keep your group connected? {Please share in the comments below?}


{For more slices of hope and everyday encouragement, consider Jo Ann’s book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice: Overcoming Life’s Hurts & Using Your Story to Make a Difference. }

9 thoughts on “When Your Small Group Isn’t Going Well

  1. The group that God has put together for me to lead is a book study group. This is actually a hard group to lead, we study and tackle those extremely hard issues that sometimes we can’t even admit to ourselves. I’ve found that for my group that is the hardest. And when I notice the participation to grow the weakest, I know I need to pray harder because collectively they are struggling. I’ve even suggested taking a few days or even a week off so they all can recover. Sometimes they shy away from answering those hard questions, sometimes they answer but not with the whole deep knowledge of themselves. However, I’ve also noticed, that as the leader, if I am totally and completely honest and open with them, they will be so in return. My biggest desire is for all these wonderful women to connect with each other, supporting each other so each of us can grow into the women we were made to be. These tips, especially the self-care ones will most certainly help when they grow weary or may be struggling with the topic. Thank you. <3

  2. Dear Jo Ann,
    I just want to tell you that I and a friend have been praying and talking about how to create forums for community building and networking with other women because so many of us feel isolated and alone even though we are meaningfully involved in a faith community. And that so many women who really need support the most are the ones that find it so difficult to connect and what could be done to help. Then I saw your post! I know God is speaking through you in this and am praying how the Lord would use me to help others. Thank you and please pray for me in this area.
    Bless you,

    • I love that you are stepping into that outreach, Susan! A much-needed area for certain. And I love how God uses us to encourage one another on this journey. I will be praying for you ladies.

  3. i love this and while reading it reflected on our group of women that have been together over the past year. the sweet connection with women, heart-to-heart that even though we don’t always stay in touch that when we do reconnect its easy for us to pick up right where we left off. we grew together through all the hard places as individuals when before i spent most of my time running from being transparent. its definitely in the deep that God transforms lives and in a safe environment where trust and faith flourish.

  4. Jo Ann,

    It is so hard to watch our groups shrink. Unfortunately some loss is going to happen…. Whether women don’t feel connected, have health issues, or life just takes over… Satan will use that loss to discourage us and distract us.

    Some things I learned as a BSF leader that can help – regular communication (phone, text, email) every week; limit time spent on prayer requests (women want to do the study and can get frustrated when prayer requests take over and the study is neglected); and start and end on time (when we respect their time, they respect ours).

    So glad to see you get this conversation started! Groups are faltering and there are things we can do to engage them!

  5. I’m about to lead a Women’s Bible Study. We will watch a teacher on video first. Then have discussions and prayer once a week. So far there is a great number of women signed up.
    I really feel the call of God to do this, I also have my reservations about keeping the women involved. I have been in 3 studies with most of them, they are a little to theirselves. Please pray with me they will allow the spirit to lead them and myself. Thank you for encouragement ❣️

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