Effective Small Group Development

When new small groups come together there is sometimes an expectation that they will be effective from the start.

Once we were born, it took time for us to mature. The same is true for our spiritual lives. Groups are no different. Once a group is born, it has to develop before it is mature and performing effectively.

Importance of Proper Small Group Development

The small group development process is important. If we try to take shortcuts, disaster can result. Consequences can include:

  • Dysfunctional small group meetings
  • Poor group member relationships
  • Lack of participation and growth
  • Termination of the group

I was reminded about the importance of the group development process when listening to the podcast No Size Fits All – The Importance Of Learning Styles In Disciple Making. Josh Rose mentioned “forming, storming, norming, and performing” during his presentation.

About the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Adjourning Group Development Model

Bruce Tuckman developed the 4-stage group development model of “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in 1965. Tuckman and Mary Ann Jensen later added the fifth stage of “adjourning” (which some describe as “mourning”) in 1977.

This model describes the stages an effective group goes through. It is also one of the most popular group development models that has stood out over time.

Stages of Small Group Development

The following are the stages of group development as they apply to small groups. Each group will be different about the amount of time that will be spent in each of the stages.


In this stage the members are just coming together as a group. Many are a little anxious and wondering whether they can become good friends with others in the group and whether participating in the group will be worthwhile. Controversy is typically avoided in this stage. Right off the start is a great time to include the following:

  • Pray and seek Holy Spirit’s guidance
  • Come up with the group’s specific purpose
  • Decide when and where the group will meet
  • Establish the general expectations of all members
  • Come to an agreement on how the group will operate (this includes how to address conflicts that come up)


God made each of us unique. We have unique personalities, knowledge, experiences, talents and gifts. This diversity is one of the things that makes groups great and effective. It can also be one of the things that can cause a significant amount of conflict and even an early downfall.

Remind the team about agreements in the last stage as conflicts arise. This alone will be an adequate solution most of the time.

This is a great time to include the following:

  • Pray and seek Holy Spirit’s guidance
  • Agree on how the Determine how the group will be organized to fulfill the purpose
  • Define the role of each member
  • Write and agree on a small group agreement (also called a contract or covenant)


In this phase the conflict has now turned into a sense of belonging within the group. Each member is starting to work in their defined roles, giving them an increased sense of purpose and accomplishment. This is a great time to include the following:

  • Pray and seek Holy Spirit’s guidance (Do you see a pattern?)
  • Measure and report what needs to be maintained or improved to fulfill the group’s purpose
  • Celebrate victories, even the small ones


The group members are now working together as they accomplish their goals. The members are focused on the purpose and flexible in their roles to best fulfill that purpose. Conflicts can happen, but are usually resolved in a positive way. Group members go out of their way to support each other. Significant spiritual growth is occurring due to the level of trust, support and accountability established. This is a great time to include the following:

  • Pray and seek Holy Spirit’s guidance
  • Measure and report what needs to be maintained and improved to fulfill the group’s purpose
  • Find ways to continually improve
  • Celebrate victories, even the small ones
  • Periodically review and recommit to the small group purpose and agreement


Whether the small group is dissolved or split into multiple groups, there will be a sense of loss of group identity and friendships that were built. Change management techniques need to be put in place so that the loss does not result in any members feeling abandoned or becoming disinterested in serving God. This is a great time to include the following:

  • Pray and seek Holy Spirit’s guidance
  • Be clear with the group about why the change is needed
  • Allow the members to voice their opinions, LISTEN, and adjust if warranted
  • Make it as easy as possible for each member to make the change and monitor the change closely so none are lost

When Your Small Group Changes

When a small group that has performed effectively gets new members or loses members, there is usually an expectation that the effectiveness of the group will be unaffected. The same is true when a small group is split to start more small groups. This is rarely the case in either situation.

When there are changes in a small group, like adding new members or experiencing confidentiality violations, it moves the group back to an earlier stage of development. Recognizing this will help understand what is needed to bring the small group back to performing effectively as soon as possible.

Question: What ideas about developing and sustaining healthy small groups are you thinking of as a result of reading this post? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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