Small Group Leadership

If you are the leader of a small group there will be certain things that are expected of you.  Here are some of the things that you should do as a small group leader.

Plan for meeting

This includes a number of specific steps. He should determine the purpose of the meeting and communicate that to group members. He must consider the participants for the meeting including the regular group members and any special guests. Try to decide what positions they will take, what contributions they will make, and how involved they will be. Prepare and distribute an agenda for the meeting. The most important items should be at the first of the agenda. Arrange for facilities and equipment for the meeting. Be sure you can have the room when you want it and for as long as you want it. Send notice of the meeting, and this may include reminders. Assemble any materials needed for the meeting. Prepare an outline for the discussion. This type of planning is essential. This preparation may also include visuals.

Develop a climate or atmosphere

Develop a friendly and permissive atmosphere in the group that is free from domination and threats. This kind of atmosphere encourages participation. To ensure this, the leader will want to use power sparingly. He will give permission to speak, permission to differ, and permission for the group to decide.

Many things can be done to help a group become free to communicate. The leader should use first names, and call everyone by name in each meeting. He should allow disagreement, and even encourage it. He should allow people to speak freely and without permission. He should use buzz groups, group projects, and round robin response and get every member to make a contribution. Call on quiet group members. Provide a snack time.

Develop a purpose and goals

A parent organization may establish the purpose for a small group, but they should have a voice in the goals. A strong leader may determine group goals, but this can be a mistake. Recognize that informal group goals exist and they may be different from the formal goals of the organization. When they are different, it will cause conflict. Members will always support goals more if the goals of the group are compatible or the same as the goals of the individuals in the group and if they have a voice in determining what the goals are for the group.

Stimulate, guide, and control the discussion, and move towards a decision

This includes clock-watching, keeping the discussion on the topic, checking aggressive members, drawing in non-participants, and improving the quality of the discussion. He should keep his fingers on the group’s pulse. At the same time the leader should be impartial and not take sides or announce a position. He should be attentive and listen to each contributor. He should be able to point out similarities and differences in different points made in the discussion. Occasionally he will summarize the progress being made.

Stimulating the discussion involves getting every one to participate. This is not easy. People give many reasons or excuses for not contributing. Some feel their participation will not make any difference. This could be because of self-image or their image of the leader. Some are simply not interested enough to participate. Some don’t participate because they are tired, thinking of something else, afraid, or just slow to respond.

Keep records and represent the group externally

Decision-making groups should maintain records of the meetings. These records should be distributed to the members and any parent organization. The leader would be the representative of the group to any meetings of the parent group or with any group they work together with.

Small Group Membership

There are many reasons to join a small group.  While there are advantages to joining a small group there are also responsibilities that are expected of group members.

Reasons why people join groups

People join groups to grow, to learn, to contribute, to socialize, to participate, and sometimes to maintain their position in another group. People join groups because they expect their rewards to be greater than the cost of membership. They only attend group meetings when their rewards exceed their cost.

Responsibilities of group members

Group members have a responsibility to prepare for group meetings and this could involve study or it could involve some private meetings and politicking. They have a responsibility to listen to the discussion. Members should pay attention to each person in the group. Members are sometimes guilty of thinking of their response rather than listening. Members have a responsibility to contribute to the discussion and the decision-making. A group member can make several types of participation remarks. He might seek additional information, usually with a question. He might provide additional information. He can provide opinions and take sides. He can offer a solution. He can summarize the discussion. He should not, however, monopolize the discussion. Members should maintain a proper attitude. There are times when the discussion in a small group should remain confidential, and it becomes the responsibility of each group member to maintain this. Each member should help carry out the decision.

Relationships in a group

At least three subgroups exist in a group:
1. Those who make things happen
2. Those who watch things happen
3. Those who say, “Hey man, what’s happening?”

A primary subgroup will establish and maintain the norms and be the prime mover toward the goals. A fringe subgroup will support the primary subgroup, but make little direct contribution. In larger groups there will be an outside subgroup that is isolated – members in name only – and make no contribution.

An individual ranking order may exist within a group. This is called a pecking order in a chicken pen. One chicken can peck all the other chickens and not be pecked at all. One chicken will be pecked by all the others, and cannot peck any. All the others exist at some point between these two.

Roles of group members

Many lists have been devised to define the roles of individual group members. Some of these are quite humorous. The following names and descriptions have been taken from many sources. There is often an informal and undesignated leader.

1. The gatekeeper – signals for others to speak.
2. The expert – brings information and statistics to the problem at hand, and expands on whatever is said.
3. The rebel – defies the authority of leaders.
4. The scapegoat – receives the brunt of criticism and scorn.
5. The jester – creates comic relief at tense moments.
6. The slave – is excessively acquiescent.
7. The hero – is a person of influence and honor.
8. The standard setter – maintains the standards or norms of the group and helps to monitor how well the members are keeping the norms.
9. The summarizer – gathers the main information of the group and recapitulates.
10. The diagnoser – identifies and analyzes the problem the group has in performing the task.
11. The timekeeper – helps to get the meetings to start and stop on time.
12. The active listener – focuses attention on the person speaking and asks questions that elicit what others are thinking and feeling.
13. The clarifier – makes sure everyone understands clearly the discussion and helps to avoid misunderstandings by eliminating vagueness and imprecision.
14. The tension reliever – offers breaks from stress and strain by injecting humor or giving options for fun and enjoyable group activities.

Factors that limit member’s participation

1. Feelings of personal inadequacy. This can be a real problem to the newest group member, the youngest group member, or the group member at the lowest level in the organization.

2. A fear of evaluation and rejection. This fear can be of the other group members, or of the group leader. If a person does not feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, he will not remain or contribute to the group.

3. A dominant member may talk too much and limit the participation of all others.

4. A misunderstanding of the purpose of the meeting. If a member sees the purpose as decision-making, and finds out the purpose is information-sharing, he may not participate.

5. If the group appears to be wasting time or not have any authority.

6. Reaction to an autocratic leader. The autocratic leader in a group situation will want to get his will done quickly and will use all the force and power at his disposal. He can gain compliance, but without commitment. There may be some suggestions made for improvement from the group, especially if there are rewards for such usually handed out.

Purposes of Small Groups

Small groups are important in the world and in the church today because they serve a variety of purposes. Some groups will accomplish all of these purposes, and some will only have one of the purposes to accomplish.  Here are some of the purposes of small groups as well as advantages and disadvantages of small groups.

Fact finding

Fact finding groups exist to gather and analyze information. Usually they make recommendations to parent groups, which then make the final decision. Building committees and study committees carry out this function.


A small group might be a teaching group. Sunday school classes and home Bible classes are small groups in action. Some people use committee membership for this purpose, and feel that, by rotating the membership of the standing committees in a church, the membership will become more informed about the work of the church.

Making decisions

Small groups can be used to make decisions, and this includes solving problems, planning, and determining policy.

Resolve conflicts

Small groups can be used to resolve conflicts and find an acceptable solution. Special committees or task forces are often appointed for this purpose.

Coordination and evaluation

A small group can be used to organize and event and evaluate how the event went after the fact.  This evaluation can be used for future events – both unrelated events or for a repeat of the same event later.

Build community and consensus

Some groups are used to get information out and make sure that everyone is on the same page.  This type of group may be an informational meeting regarding a change that is proposed at the church.  This assures that everyone gets the same information and allows for questions to be raised.

Advantages of small groups

Small groups offer a number of advantages over individual effort:

1. Provide a wider range of knowledge
2. Provide a greater variety of ideas to a problem, and a greater number of possible solutions
3. Offer more resources, such as energy, skills, and assets
4. Will distinguish between good and bad solutions better than individuals

Overall, small groups provide a better quality decision. They are evidence against elitism. Decisions of small groups are accepted better than decisions of an individual because of broader participation. Small group work is an excellent way to develop leadership of individuals. This alone makes small groups significant to the church leader, as he is to be developing the members of his church.

Disadvantages to small groups

Group work will take longer to arrive at a decision than one individual. The decision of a group may not be the leader’s decision. In-group work quality is subjected to quantity. The majority is not always right. The consensus of the group may be based on finding an average level and compromising. The decision may be a negotiated compromise.

If the group is too large, there are additional disadvantages. If the group is large it will take more time. It takes a while to develop a community spirit, and more time is needed at the beginning of each meeting to catch up. Larger groups will have more unproductive members. Absenteeism is more of a problem if the group is large. There will be less group cohesiveness, and subgroups tend to take over. More problems can develop with each member seeing other members as separate persons. The members may feel threatened and reluctant to participate because of the impersonality of a large group. The central leadership gets stronger as group size increases. The room and the leader become much more important when the group is larger. Finally, decisions become more difficult because of factionalism and subgroup demands.

Characteristics of Small Groups

A small group is a collection of individuals who have come together in a face-to-face relationship with a purpose in mind and with a willingness to interact in attaining goals. Small groups in churches may be appointed, elected, or just assembled to help the church achieve its purposes.

Small group work is sometimes called group dynamics. In some ways a group is static or fixed, such as the name, constitutional structure, and ultimate purpose. In many other ways, however, small groups have dynamic aspects. A small group is always moving, changing, becoming, acting, reacting, and interacting. The dynamics of small groups is being contributed to by forces inside the group as well as by forces outside the group.

Small groups come in all kinds of sizes. A discussion group might have up to fifty people involved. They can develop a common conclusion. This may be good for data gathering. This size group can be used with a steering committee for projects like a building program or capital fund raising. A problem-solving group with a maximum of 25 people can be the basic decision-making group in a church. This size group can study problems and recommend solutions effectively.

However, deep problem-solving groups should be limited to no more than 10 people. This size group can handle emotional issues, such as personality conflicts, and other difficult problems. Many say the ideal size for a small group is either 5 or 7 members.

Small groups have certain general characteristics that are really variables. Leaders and members need to be aware of these characteristics to function effectively in the small group.

Small groups have a definable membership

A collection of two or more people does not make a small group in the sense that it is being used here. A group of people waiting at a bus stop does not comprise a small group. The group will respond differently based on how people become members: appointed, elected, self-perpetuating, ex-officio, or volunteer. The size of the membership also will affect the group––the larger the group, the less personal the involvement of the members.

Small groups have a shared purpose

All should understand this purpose. The goals of the group will greatly affect the response of the group members. If a small group loses its sense of purpose, it disintegrates rapidly. If a member stops seeing that purpose as important, then his involvement in the group decreases. Individual group members may have different purposes, but need to share in the common purpose. The individual purposes make up hidden agendas.

Small groups have harmony and consensus

Some degree of consensus or harmony must exist among the members with regard to the issue at hand. This harmony is based on mutual respect of others in the group. This respect is built upon relationships. If this is missing, the group will disintegrate. Too much harmony can be a danger. A group that is too homogeneous may be ingrown.

This harmony produces cohesion and binds the group together. This is the group spirit, or morale. If the group is stable with few changes, the bond is stronger. If there is real openness for communication and respect for each other, the bond may be stronger. The group actually achieves a group personality and an identity of its own. A small group has an assembly effect bonus, or extra productivity that results from the group as compared to the effort of the individuals. Assembly lines produce more than individual craftsmen. Groups that are more homogeneous or similar will be more cohesive. Usually, groups that allow more openness and frankness in discussion will be more cohesive.

Small groups communicate

They will encourage communication and interaction among the members. The better the members know each other, the better the interaction will be. The members need to work at keeping open these lines of communication. Communication may develop into a specialized vocabulary with private jokes and word meanings. The group members will come to identify the nonverbal communication signals of each other.

The communication pattern will either be one-way, two-way, or multi-directional. The ideal for good group work is multi-directional. The leader controls a wheel network and all communication comes from him or goes toward him. A chain network has communication going through the chain of command or following the ranking order. The completely connected group is very free and no restrictions exist, but each member can communicate directly with any other member.

Physical seating has an impact on communication. Autocratic seating has the leader at front and the chairs in rows. Democratic seating is in a semicircle. Laissez-faire seating is in a complete circle.

Small groups can make decisions

Small groups are sometimes used to make decisions, or at least a recommendation of a decision to a larger body. They can make a decision and move as though the group was a single person.

Small groups develop a historical way of acting

If they survive, they will develop a history or background. The expectations of the members, and those outside the group as well, will be built around this history. The new member to a group needs to work at discovering this history.

They will develop a normal pattern for procedures. This may be informal, or very formal and be based on Robert’s Rules of Order. This may be called a coping behavior and reflect how the group copes with different situations, including threats from outside.

Small groups have norms or standards

Norms are ideas in the minds of group members that specify what the members are expected to do under given circumstances. Norms may be written or unwritten. Norms will specify how the individuals in a group should or should not behave.

An individual’s standing in the group will depend upon his compliance with the established norms. Nonconformity is punished, but conformity is rewarded. The higher a person’s rank, however, the more closely he conforms to the group norms, but also the more leeway he has. A person with high rank can get away with a lot, while a person with little rank may be punished for a minor infraction. Independent personality types are less submissive to norms of groups. More educated members of the group are less likely to conform to norms with college graduates conforming less than high school graduates.

Norms are enforced in a variety of ways. Education is used, especially with new members, to teach them what the norms are. Surveillance is used and members watch other members and report any deviation from the norm. Rational and reasonable arguments may be used with a member who is deviating from the norms. Charm may be used to bring the member into conformity with the group. Razzing, heckling, or other forms of attack may be used. Expulsion or elimination from the group may be used if a member fails to be corrected in any other way, or if the infraction was very serious.

Small groups have structure

Some small groups will have several structures or organizational patterns. There is always a visible and formal structure, and there may be an invisible and informal structure. There may even be a pecking order where a total stratification of members exists.

Intro to Small Groups

Group work has become increasingly important in the church today. There may have been a time when people saw individual leaders as individuals doing most of the leading. If that was ever true, it is no longer so. Despite all the jokes about committees, it is through people working together in small groups that the work of leadership is being done. The church makes use of many types of groups: church staff, deacons, church council, leadership groups from organizations, committees, boards, and councils.

The book of Proverbs has several verses that emphasize the importance of group work:
11:14 – “For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but many advisers make victory sure.”

18:17 – “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. .”

20:18 – “Make plans by seeking advice;
if you wage war, obtain guidance.”

28:26 – “He who trusts in himself is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”

Group work and Christianity make several assumptions about the individual. The individual is important. The individual is competent. The individual is responsible. The individual is social. The individual has personal needs to be met. These assumptions form the basis for group work.

Group work has increased in importance because of several factors. The common democratic style of leadership has contributed to the rise of group work. Group work is central to the concept of a democratic style of leadership. The increased concern for human rights has also been a contributor to the rise of group work. As people have had more of a voice in government, business, and other areas, they have desired an increased voice in the church, and this has also contributed to the rise of group work. A primary characteristic of baby boomers is that they want to participate in decision-making and to have a voice.

The small group is a powerful force in the world today, including the church. The successful leader today must learn how to work with small groups. He must learn how to be a group member as well as a group leader, because he will find himself in both positions. Many church workers have experienced problems in their ministries because they messed up in working with small groups (deacons, church staff, church council) in the church. Effective work in small groups will involve persuading, negotiating, a little power politics, and building relationships. The members will all have to work at keeping harmony.

In leadership groups from organizations, the leader of one group becomes a member of a group at the next higher level of the organizational chart. The Sunday School teacher leads the class group, but is a member of the department group. The department superintendent leads the department group, but is a member of the Sunday School Council group. In an organization with several levels, each leader will be a member of at least two different groups. A Sunday school worker would be a member of two Sunday school groups, and may also be a deacon and member of several church committees.