If you’ve been in group ministry long enough, you’ve had a group leader tell you, “Don’t try to split my group!” or “Just leave us alone; we don’t want to lose the fellowship we’ve created.” Broaching the subject of starting new groups can be painful. It’s happened to me in every church I’ve served, and it’s aggravating, depressing, and frustrating all at the same time. I naively thought groups would be excited about releasing people to start new ones.

If Christians are to go and make disciples, why do so many groups resist starting new ones? After leading group ministry at the local church level as a groups pastor for over three decades, I’ve compiled a list of reasons groups resist this essential work.

  1. We’re using the wrong terms

In the past, I’ve asked groups to split, divide, and birth new ones. Then I realized that every one of those terms has pain associated with it! It’s true that words create worlds, so I learned to use other terms instead. Now I like to ask groups to plant another one (we use the term “plant” when talking about starting new churches), launch a group, or even franchise themselves.

  1. We haven’t recruited group leaders with this expectation

This one is on those of us who do the group leader recruitment. Almost no group leaders I’ve encountered were asked to make starting a new group (or groups) a priority in their ministry. In fact, the subject is almost never talked about during the recruiting stage. If church leaders don’t recruit with this as an expectation, it’s no wonder group leaders resist starting new ones. This should be on a new group leader’s short list of expectations.

  1. We’ve allowed the idea of permanence to creep into our group ministry

By not starting new groups each year, we’ve allowed the idea of permanence to infiltrate the minds of our group leaders and group members. Many of them would say the goal of a group is to grow close, go deep, and be together until Jesus returns. I tell group leaders healthy things grow and growing things change. The idea that a group of people will be together forever is not healthy for the church, nor is it realistic if we are going to reach new people. A church where I once had my membership had gone over five years without starting a single new group. This opens the door to the idea of permanence, which puts the church on the road to decline.

  1. We aren’t calling attention to this important part of group ministry

If we want people to stop resisting the necessary step of starting new groups, we must celebrate what we want them to replicate. Every time a new group is started, we should take time in the church’s weekly worship service to affirm the new group leaders and the people who help launch the group. It’s a wonderful moment to refocus the church’s attention where it should be—on reaching new people for Jesus, who told us to teach people to obey all He’d commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Remember, if the church believes something is important to the pastor, it often becomes important to the church. Let’s lift up the people who launch new groups, and in the process let’s lift up the Great Commission and the calling of Jesus to teach people His Word.

  1. We have a distorted view of what success in group ministry really is

I’ve known group leaders who understand and support the need to start new groups, so they hold their group members with a loose grip. But I’ve also known another kind of group leader who believes the success of the group is based on the number of people in it. This kind of leader has mistakenly bought into the lie that “bigger is better.” Group leaders must come to realize their primary reason for existing as a group is to make disciples. But let’s be honest. Your church probably has at least one group leader who loves the “power” of having the largest group. And this leader normally opposes the call to release people and plant new groups. We need to help this kind of leader rethink what success is, and in my view, reaching more people and multiplying a ministry is the win we’re looking for.

  1. We all grieve losses

When a group is asked to send out a core group to start a new group, or if the group is asked to release even more people—up to half of the current group—to start a new one, you can believe that grief will be a factor. Don’t go through this stage too quickly, church leader. Grief is real, and when people are no longer in community with people they’ve come to love, they need time to deal with their emotions. When groups launch new ones, people grieve lost relationships and the feeling of normalcy they’ve developed as a group. We all love stability and predictability, and starting new groups disrupts this. People need time to be sad. Grief can be a good and healthy thing, but when it comes to starting new groups, people resist because starting new groups hurts at some emotional level.

  1. We just don’t see the need

When a church is proactively starting groups, I can guarantee someone has cast vision for it. We sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees, and helping your people see the need for new groups is important. People often get so caught up in their groups they fail to see the overall needs of the church’s group ministry. While Group A may not believe starting new groups is important (because they have enough room to add new people), Group B down the hallway is struggling because they don’t have room to add group members. When one ministry area of the church becomes too crowded, it affects other areas negatively. If the preschool ministry cannot start new groups and overcrowding happens, young adult group attendance will decline because parents will be uneasy about leaving their kids in overcrowded conditions. Cast a vision for the overall needs of your church’s group ministry.

Best practices

Now that we’ve looked at seven reasons groups resist starting new ones, let’s also see what we can do about it. Here are some thoughts and best practices to move beyond a mentality that resists starting new groups:

  • Change your vocabulary and ask groups to plant, franchise, or launch new ones. Avoid using the terms split, divide, and birth!
  • Recruit new leaders with an expectation they will start a new group within 18 to 24 months after launching their own group.
  • Call attention to the importance of starting new groups by praying for new groups and group leaders as they plant new groups. Do this in your worship service for maximum communication.
  • Remind current group leaders that success equals multiplication and that the goal is to reach more people through new groups.
  • When you ask groups to launch new ones, give them time to process what you’re asking, knowing they will experience grief over the perceived loss of relationships when people leave to plant new groups.
  • Cast vision for starting new groups, and how new groups will help preschool, kids, student, and adult ministries grow by reaching new people for Christ.


Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash