1. Groups were launched to support the weekend large group gathering. The stated purpose of launching groups may be to help people experience missional living, but the reality is the groups were formed for visitor and member retention. If groups are constantly being retooled or relaunched to fit the latest sermon series, they're just another supportive program for the pulpit ministry.
2. Potential members were not told that groups are, by design, to experience Christ's presence, power and help them fulfill their purpose in life, which is to be salt and light to the world. If groups are formed for one of many areas of self-improvement without including a purposeful development of a passion for reaching unchurched people for Christ through relational evangelism, it's going to fail.
3. Member-to-convert discipleship was never considered before groups were launched. I consult lots of churches who call me and say, "We have ten groups now, the leaders are burned out, and the members have lost interest. What should we do?" This is a clear sign that helping group members become self-feeding, passionate ambassadors for Christ in their neighborhoods and workplaces was not engineered into the vision for groups and not prototyped to success before groups were launched.
4. Groups are perceived by the membership as optional, and the weekend services are more important. If the lead pastor is unwilling to publicly say, "If you only have time for one meeting right now, go to your small group" it's a clear sign this is the case.
5. Leaders are appointed to leadership because they are willing to host a meeting in their home and faithful to participation, not because they see group leadership as a passion to help others discover and live out their spiritual potential.
A healthy small group-based church is characterized by:
1. Small groups are not seen as a ministry of the church, but the actual church. Small group participation and leadership do not compete with other ministries and volunteer positions. In fact, every ministry of the church (including the pulpit ministry) is geared to equip and release the group members for the work of their ministry.
2. Relational evangelism and discipleship were a significant part of the planning process for the launch of groups. These two things create organic growth that grows like a wildfire and takes on a life of its own.
3. Leadership in a group is earned, meaning new groups are launched as members have earned the trust of others and who become followers.
4. Group members understand their goal is to reach friends for Christ and start a group of their own sooner than later, and they're passionately pursuing it. Even very hurting people or those bound up by addiction see a leadership reason to get set free and remain free.
5. Health is most easily seen when a church has a waiting list of eager members who want to become leaders when they have completed the training and have overcome obstacles to leadership. Yes, there are many healthy small group-based churches around the world with waiting lists of people who want to become leaders!
I hope this helps you determine where your church may be failing in your small group transition or launch.