Why People are Reluctant to Join a Small Group

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bce95ce808587d4b0669e82b216251afI caught myself this morning. Trying to encourage people to join a small group on social media this morning I found myself using the word, “should”. I immediately changed it because I wanted to make sure that in my zeal for people to join a group I wasn’t overlooking some real reasons why people are reluctant to jump into one. There is a way to encourage (and sometimes challenge) people to jump into a small group without “should’ing” them in. In shepherding people toward small groups there has to be at least an understanding why it’s hard for some people. Here are a few reasons it might be hard:

  1. Meeting new people makes me anxious. For some, being put into a new social setting with a group of new people causes stress. When they think about sharing their thoughts or what’s going on in their heart there is a deep anxiety or fear that wells up. Let’s face it, when in the course of a normal day do we sit around with people we don’t know and talk about God, the purpose of life, and the best way to live?
  2. I didn’t grow up in the church and haven’t been a part of a small group. Similar to #1, we are asking people to be a part of something they have no context for. Maybe they are really afraid it will become like a recovery group (Hi, my name is _____ and I’m feeling _____”) or maybe they simply feel like they will come across as ignorant because they don’t have much Bible knowledge.
  3. I don’t know how to open my life up to others. For some being open comes very naturally. For others, the idea of being “vulnerable” or “transparent” was not a part of their life growing up and it’s frightening. Our current cultural climate emphasizes you are responsible for your own life. Why then should I share with others? What if I put myself out there and they reject me? We talk about authenticity as Chrsitian but I wonder if people would talk about it as much if they understood what it meant.
  4. I have young kids. Have you ever tried to herd the kids and get them ready for church? It’s so exhausting that some parents can’t settled down enough to sit and worship on Sunday morning. Often by the time evening rolls around during the week and the kids are in bed, parents are looking for quiet. Most young parents I know are exhausted from the real work (yes, moms work!) and live with this tension of wanting down time yet craving adult-like conversations with friends.
  5. Our lives are busy. The demands of work, family, kids’ activities, friends, hobbies and a plethora of many other good things is the reality of our lives. While all of us need to be aware of how much we have on our plate and turning our kids into little idols (by letting their activities rule our life), the reality is we are all busy. I’m done with responding to “How are you doing?” with “Boy, I’ve been busy.” Why? Because everyone’s life is uber-busy and my life is no different. We are trying to follow God in the midst of many good and great opportunities! We are trying to shepherd our children well! It’s just that we all wrestle with how much is enough…
  6. I already have friends I’m close with. Some people only the capacity for a limited amount of social connections. When we ask people to join a small group are we asking them to do something that might be very difficult because they have reached their relational capacity? As one person asked, why are we asking people to connect with more people when they already have good relationships with a few people?
  7. I had a very bad experience with a small group. I can understand why some would be reluctant to join a small group based on a prior experience. It’s like asking a friend to come to church who had a very bad experience with church earlier. Maybe the group was just a lecture or the leader telling people what to do. Maybe it became too political with everyone griping about the direction of our country. Maybe it was just weird where people spoke about “the Lord told me”. Or maybe it was people came just to keep talking about their constant problems… and the list could go on and on! In addition, when multiplying groups becomes the subtle priority over life-on-life growing as a follower of Jesus, people begin to ask why they should even join when in 18 months the group will have to break up. In my experience, it takes awhile for many groups to reach that “comfort” level where they deeply bond so the thought of trying to bond with an impending “break up” is well, maddening.
  8. I have a personal relationship with Jesus and that’s enough. For many, they have grown up making a personal trusting commitment to Christ and that’s where it’s stayed. Many churches keep faith at an individual level all the way from constant altar calls to the rigor of showing up on church as an individual only to leave as an individual. The current climate adds to this by emphasizing that one’s religious beliefs are personal and should be largely kept to themselves.

These are real reasons that people tell themselves or give to others as a way to justify why they aren’t in a small group. As a small group/discipleship pastor I understand and I want to sit and listen without immediately offering the fix. That said, here’s what I would ask people to at least consider: What if there was a good response to each objection? If there were, would you be open to reconsidering staying out of a small group? While there certainly are clear commands (the “one another” commands, Hebrews 10:24-25) and a clear example (Acts 2:42-47) to share life with each other as believers, we don’t want to “should” people into any action. Let’s start where people are at, hear and understand their “objections” and then shepherd them into seeing that there is a kind of “body of Christ” life that is essential the Bride of Christ to enter into.

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