Posted by: tlhawkins | October 19, 2009


One of the guys on staff with us, Nathan, is a mechanical whiz.  He drives a 1982 Escort, and tomorrow would hop in and drive that thing across the country.

He can do that, in part, because he gives that car enough love to keep it rolling day after day.  I give my car love about once a year.  It is a holiday at our house, we call it “Love the Car Day”.

I think our small/community/cell/family/life groups can fall victim to the same kind of consequences of occasional care:  malfunction.  The following is a list of simple, yet often overlooked places to check to keep small groups running well.


1.  Check for Loose Steering

Students take time out of their schedule to be involved in something that is clearly adding value to their life.  If students begin drifting from small groups, it may be less about their commitment than a clear direction in the group.  Here are two important places to check for loose steering:

  1. CHOOSING CONTENT –  Sometimes groups will spend 2-3 weeks just deciding content, because they want everyone to have a say.  By this time people have decided this is a ship without a captain, or they are wasting their time.  Have a direction in mind, pick something others recommend, and set the tone for how the group will function starting strong on week one!
  2. WAITING FOR PEOPLE – A second place to check for loose steering is WAITING FOR CRITICAL MASS.  I’ve seen it happen over and over.  One week only these three people show up, then next week a different three, so you suspend moving forward to get everyone on the same bus.  Just keep the bus moving, and people will jump on if it is going somewhere.  If the bus is out of service people will find a different way to get where they want to be.

2.  Check the Timing Belts – Time is one of the most sacred gifts that people give one another.  Two places to check for bad timing belts:

  1. ONLY NEW PEOPLE ARRIVE EARLY!  it is an unfortunate trueism…only new people show up early or on-time.  It is important to be ready AND have someone else committed to coming early.  This communicates that you and other people who are a part of the group value being a place of hospitality and care about new people coming.
  2. HAVE CLEAR TRANSITIONS TO BEGIN AND END:  The second place timing belts go bad is starting and ending boundaries.  When anyone gives you time…they are giving you a gift.  Value it.  Respect it.  Have clear time expectations.  Give people a chance to leave naturally, on time.  We break up our groups as 20/40/20/10:Thanksgiving
  • 20 – Arrive to great hospitality, food and conversation.  This is NOT stalling and waiting for people to arrive.  This is INTENTIONAL INFORMAL building of relationships.  Encourage members of the group to share the perspective.
  • 40 – Discussion of the content you are learning to apply together.  Can’t be knowledge for knowledge sake.
  • 20 – So What.  For us this is the practical turn.  A more intentional conversation about how the content makes a difference in an ongoing way when we walk out the door.
  • 10 – Pray (in most groups) and PHYSICALLY GET UP AND MOVE!  We encourage everyone to MOVE at the end, that way anyone who needs to leave to study OR just wants to leave can do so easily.  Sometimes we save food for this moment and just do drinks at the beginning.

3.  Check for Dead Batteries – This is pretty obvious, but keep the energy source charged.  THAT MEANS DON’T BURN OUT YOUR LEADERS!.  Here are three things to strive for to keep your leaders charged.

  1. Encourage – Set up a coaching system if you are not able to care for all of the leaders, but don’t assume they are just moving right along.  THEY WILL NEVER LEAD A GROUP AGAIN IF THIS IS A DRAINING EXPERIENCE.  Protect your leaders from discouragement, and do everything you can to set them up to succeed.  Look to partner leaders with gifts of hospitality and gifts of connecting.
  2. Celebrate – Remember, this is the first time most of them have ever led people in a spiritual/faith oriented conversation.  Go sit in one week, find ways to celebrate things that are happening in their group.  AND look for practical ways to help them get better.  This is not natural for everyone, but usually everyone wants to get better at what they do.
  3. Simplify – Small group leaders are usually very involved.  If you want to value small groups, free them up from other responsibilities in order to lead well.  Minimize the number of meetings they need to attend so they can lead and care well for the people in their group and be involved in missional places on campus.

There are a lot of opinions about what kind of car to drive (small/community/cell/family/life groups), but if you maintain that care well (instead of waiting for something to go wrong)… you can minimize malfunction and keep momentum rolling!



  1. […] and there have been some great posts kicking things off. Tim Hawkins offers 3 Points for Tuning Up Small Groups. I made a quick post about college ministry being a sort of Reverse Missionary […]

  2. This is so good! Thanks Tim. I hope everyone else is finding this blog to be as good of a resource as I am.

  3. Tim,

    I think this is a great little post. Would you be interested in having us use it as an article on

    Feel free to take a look around and if you’re interested, email me and I will give you more details.

    Thanks so much.

  4. […] I know this sounds a bit self-serving, but recently our very own Tim Hawkins wrote the article, “Simple Three Point Tune-Up for Small Groups” for this blog that was picked up and recently published on You can see the […]

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