7 Frustrations That Make Small Group Leaders Quit (and Solutions to Save the Day)

Growing a healthy small group system within any church doesn’t solely rely on identifying and training new leaders. Retention – keeping leaders serving in their area of purpose and away from frustration and burnout – is arguably more important than fresh faces.

Without preserving leaders, the system becomes a revolving door of people walking in and out. Such a system appears distrusting from the outside. Why would a church or community member join a group when the leaders don’t even stick around for a while?

While currently in our fourth year of small groups at our church, in the beginning we struggled to keep the same leaders from year to year.

Part of this issue simply came from building and implementing something new, but part of it was our lack of awareness to the obstacles small group leaders face and being prepared to offer scriptural solutions.

No one can deny that more leaders leads to more groups, and more groups lead to more people being pastored, discipled and cared for in a strategic, biblical manner (i.e. Exodus 18).

So, on top of leaning into new leaders, we asked questions to past leaders about why they no longer served. We asked current leaders what frustrations they had that made them want to stop leading.

Overall, recurring statements emerged. Now, we’re better prepared to talk a leader off the ledge when quitting their group over normal frustrations becomes a thought.

Here are seven frustrations that make small group leaders want to resign with seven practical solutions we’ve offered in return:

1.  “No one came to my group” or “No one ever comes to my group” 

First, identify if by ‘no one’ they literally mean zero people came to the group or if they mean few people came. If only a few people came, this statement eludes to the fact that while individuals did show up, they were not the people the leader hoped would be there.

If at least one person did come, look to the next statement. If no one is consistently coming to the group for more than one week, analyze the group details to see where the hiccup is (i.e. location, day, time, etc.) For example, if your leader is leading a group for moms but isn’t offering childcare or the option for children to tag along, their group details are limiting those available to be involved. If the group follows a recovery based curriculum – but the group is located in a public setting, like a coffee shop, where others can overhear conversations – their location is limiting who would actually show up. 

Make suggestions for what could be tweaked to make the group more accessible. Highlight the need for reminders, connection outside of group and the leverage of personal invitations to those they already know such as co-workers, neighbors, and family.

The utmost goal of these conversations is for the leader to know their group is salvageable and to leave the conversation encouraged to continue with a tweak in details.

2.  “I only have a few people show up.”

Instead of them finding value within the numbers of their group, the step here is to teach and show the value in who is showing up for their group.

As we see with Matthias in Acts 1, God’s sovereignty reigns even in the midst of systems that seem at chance. His Spirit spoke and guided each person to that group. There is a reason they are there, and there’s a reason the leader is their leader.

Referencing Luke 15, shift their perspective about the value of one. God very possibly has them leading just for the one or two people. Though having a multitude of followers, the greatest life-change that flowed from Jesus happened in the flock of the few.

3.  “This group is costing me more money than I thought.”

Ask some questions to find out the source of this comment. Did they pick a costly activity? Did they buy everyone’s books or curriculum? Is childcare cost getting out of hand?

Lead them to a practical solution that doesn’t end in no longer leading the group. If a costly activity, have them meet less often than originally planned. Have people in the group bring food instead of that responsibility being on the leader. Ask those in the group for contributions to cover the cost for curriculum.

Don’t allow money to be a barrier to ministry. Through wisdom, discernment and stewardship, we can example and educate a better way for our leaders. In fact, group members are more likely to commit when their contributions aid to the group’s cohesion and betterment overall.

4.  “My group is way too big!”

Your leader is not alone! Moses said the exact same thing to God one time in Numbers 11. 

Help them identify a co-leader, preferably someone with leadership potential in their group. If leader training is usually required, have the co-leader go through it the next time it’s offered. Having two people over the group takes the pressure off the one leader to try and love and lead so many people.

5.  “My life is too crazy to continue leading this semester” 

Many times this statement is made after a moment of uncertainty in the leader’s life. They are overwhelmed, and in an instant the group is the first to be cut. Then in embarrassment or guilt over their knee-jerk decision, they do not return to lead again. Sometimes their ultimate absence is necessary. It shouldn’t be the immediate response though.

Talk with the leader and have them take a week or two off. Identify a leader who could fill in for them during this break. Stay in contact with the leader. Make a plan to re-evaluate their decision after having time to sort through what happened in their life.

Additional solutions beyond this point include: having the fill-in leader take over for the rest of the semester, have the group meet less often, or have that group merge with a similar group.

The highest importance in addition to covering the group is caring for the leader. Find ways to serve them practically as well. What is one thing you can do to bring some type of relief to them?

6.  I have one member who dominates conversation, and everyone else wants to leave.”

Probably the toughest dynamic to navigate in group conversation, leaders are left wondering where the balance is between giving someone space to engage while also allowing others equal time to share as well.

The tension of someone over talking the group can become evident very quickly. When a leader encounters this, have them engage with the over talker with a short-term solution first, followed by a long-term solution if needed.  All the while, they can assure other members who bring up this concern that they are aware and navigating the future groups with grace and wisdom, confirming they’ll make available margin for them to share as well.

Short term: When an appropriate break shows itself, have the leader direct the conversation to another person in the group or back to the curriculum. (i.e. “[insert name] this sounds like something I’ve heard you share before. Do you mind telling everyone here about that?” “[insert name], what are your thoughts about what they are talking about?”)

Long term: If these short term redirects to not help, it is appropriate and acceptable to have your group leader to suggest them and the person talking to discuss their story in more detail later in the week. {i.e.  I definitely want to hear more about this. I also want us to have time to finish up what the group is talking about. Let’s schedule a time to get together and spend some one-on-one time walking through this.”) 

7.  “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know how to lead”

As with the other statements, this group leader mindset simply needs a perspective shift. When approached with this frustration, my go to mantra to share is that of John Maxwell, “You can love people without leading them, but you can’t lead people without loving them.”

It’s impossible to lead any group of people without first cultivating a love for them. While your leader might think they need to be equipped with on-time answers and over-flowing wisdom, what they’ll learn over the weeks to come is those answers and leadership will flow naturally when their focus is on developing friendships with those in their group first.

Galatians 6:10 titles the local church as a family of believers. As a leader, it is within their control whether those under their care feel like brothers and sisters or more like cogs in a wheel, lost faces in a system. 

The best groups I’ve ever been a part of are those that transcend the talk about curriculum and books. Direct your leader to intentionally dig deep into finding out more about those in their group, specifically about their life outside of church. These deeper conversations normally start by asking questions. Here are five go to questions to get the conversations started and the friendships emerging:

  • Family life: “How did you and your spouse meet?”

  • Work: “How did you end up working at _________________?”

  • Dreams/Goals:“In a perfect world, where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

  • Hobbies:“What do you like to do on your days off?”

  • Their Faith Story: “When and how did you come to know Jesus?”

Everyone can learn to lead when they make the effort to love first. 

Just as the enemy’s schemes are predictable, so are his plans to skew frustrations to our leaders and make them worth quitting over. So, stay ahead of the game. Be aware of what could come, what to pray about, and how to respond accordingly.