3 Obstacles to Growing Groups in a Small Town

Few things frustrate me as much as trying to grow a groups’ ministry in a small town. What makes it worse is all the experts who seem to have groups’ ministry figured out. Somehow, they never seem to have to deal with the same obstacles that I have to deal with.


That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy groups. Quite the contrary, I’ve loved every group I’ve ever been a part of. But I’ve come to realize recruiting group leaders and group attenders comes with a lot of obstacles–obstacles that most books and blog posts aren’t going to talk about.

Obstacles like…

  • What do we do with the kids? That’s easy, right? Hire a babysitter because everyone in a small town has plenty of money to pay another ten to twenty dollars a week to attend a gathering that they’re already unsure about. I have a hard enough time trying to find a babysitter to watch my kids when I want to take my wife on a date. Now, I have to find one during the week.

Simple fix, bring the kids to group with you. What group leader wouldn’t want an extra ten to twelve kids tearing down their house? Overly dramatic? Maybe…maybe not. We’ve seen and heard about multiple things broke in homes, including a kid’s arm.

  • How do we find the time? For most people, living in a small town means a longer commute to work for both husband and wife. My wife drives 45 minutes each way. On the days she works, it’s not uncommon for her to arrive home after 6pm. That gives us about two hours to eat dinner, give the kids a bath, and do any homework before their bedtime. Good luck trying to fit a group into that window.

That scenario is not taking into consideration the times during the year when the kids are involved in extracurricular activities. And let’s be honest, if you don’t have your kids in at least one extracurricular activity, you’re the exception not the norm. In the spring, our six year old will be playing tee ball. That means two practices a week, and a game or two every Saturday for roughly three months. Which means I’m unavailable March, April, May, and part of June for All Stars.

  • What if someone weird shows up? I’m sure it doesn’t happen at your church, but weird people show up to my church. It’s kind of a side effect of being really nice to everyone and offering free doughnuts. If you need help identifying them, they’re usually the people who hang around after service to talk to the pastor. All the normal people tend to go home.

You may know them by different names such as: the really smelly guy, the woman who disguises gossip for prayer requests, the guy who looks like an 80’s porn star, and the kid who just devoured a dozen doughnuts.

Now you may be so holy that you can’t wait to wash Weirdo’s feet, but for the rest of us, we’re scared to death that they’re going to sign up for our group. By week two, it’s going to be just us and Smelly there because everyone else abandoned ship.

These are just a few of the obstacles I’ve been thinking through, but I’m sure there’s more. This has led me to ask myself, how much community do we really need? I mean we’re already more connected than ever before because of social media. Our families are involved in so many things. At what point are we asking too much of our people? How can we make sure groups are a blessing, and not a burden? That’s the question I’m trying to figure out.

Do you offer groups at your church? Do you think it’s working? I’d love to hear from some small town pastors who have figured this out.

Get Off the Bus

Taking Your Church from Good to Great

Jim Collins is best known for his bestselling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. One of the main takeaways from the book is this concept of getting the right people on the bus. What churches so often forget is that it’s equally important to get the wrong people off the bus.


From the day I started kindergarten until the day I got my driver’s license at the age of 17, I had to ride the school bus. I was one of the first kids to get picked up each morning, which meant I was one of the last kids to get dropped off in the afternoons. I spent way more time on a school bus as a child than I ever did in church.

You learn a lot of things growing up on the school bus–some good, some bad. It all depended on who was on the bus.

Your church isn’t that different from the school bus. There are people in your church that create a positive experience, and there are people that create a negative experience. There are people who help your church grow, and people who don’t.

These people may be on staff, they may be volunteers, or they may just be someone who carries a lot of influence. The important thing to remember is just one wrong person on the bus can ruin the ride for everyone else.

So, how do you go about identifying these people? My guess is most of you already know who they are in your church, but just in case you need a little help, I’ve put together the following list.

  • Someone who is always negative. They can find a problem in any plan. They love to play devil’s advocate. They refuse to celebrate no matter how well things are going. They are dream crushers. They “protect you from having unrealistic goals.
  • Someone who doesn’t support the vision. This person absolutely hates change and will do whatever it takes to keep things the same. They often work behind the scenes to turn people against you and cast doubt in the direction you’re trying to go.
  • Someone who doesn’t fit the culture. This is more of a staff dynamic, because one of the worst things you can do is bring on a staff member that doesn’t gel with the team. You can tell this is happening by watching the mood of the room change when they walk in.
  • Someone who isn’t qualified for his or her position. If you have someone who can’t sing, why are they leading worship? If you have musicians that can’t play or teachers who can’t teach or kids’ ministry volunteers that are terrible with kids, take them out of those positions. Don’t sacrifice the vision because you’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings.

Getting the wrong people off the bus isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite messy. But if you’re going to have any chance of getting to where God wants you to go, it’s necessary.

Who have I left out? Who are some other people that we all need to get off the bus? Let us know in the comments below.

Confessions of an Adulterous Pastor

Guest Post - Jon Sanders

I’ll never forget the pit in my stomach as I hung up the phone and tried to begin processing the horrible news I had just received. Another pastor had fallen into sexual immorality and left behind the wreckage of devastated hearts in the wake of his secret sin now exposed. But this wasn’t just another random pastor. This was someone very close to me in my life and ministry. I was about to have a front row seat to watch this man’s life spiral ever downward into the depths of destruction.


In the days, weeks, and months to follow, many attempts were made by myself and other godly leaders in ministry to throw a lifeline of grace, accountability, transparency, and repentance out for this brother to grab hold of. But none of our attempts succeeded. In the end, he remained steadfast in his willful rebellion against God and ended up walking away from his wife of 40 years, his family, his church, and all that he had worked so hard to build over his lifetime.

As I tried to get my mind wrapped around this sad and dysfunctional situation, I found myself asking some tough questions. “How did this happen?” “How did he get here?” “How do you get to the point that you’re willing to walk away from everything you’ve known for the seductive lie that promises greener grass beyond sacred borders?”

As I evaluate what I know to be true from this man’s life, I’m convinced that if he were to be honest he would make the following confessions:

1. “I was not in Christian community.”

While this man led God’s people spiritually for years, he never saw the importance in connecting closely with any of them. He believed the lie that says pastors are better off not having close friends in the church. He was lonely and isolated. Isolation is dangerous and Satan loves nothing more than to prey upon those who are removed from the protective safety that can be found in Christian community.

2. “I resisted accountability in my life.”

This pastor thrived by being in control. Therefore, he didn’t see the need to be accountable for how he spent his time, how he handled his money, whom he counseled, or whether or not he was under any kind of authority in his life. People answered to him…never the other way around.

3. “I did not walk in authenticity and transparency.”

It was hard for people to really know this pastor. He did a great job of keeping a plastic façade up on the outside to conceal the real emotions and pain he was dealing with on the inside. Even when things were extremely difficult in ministry, he would just put on his brave face and muscle through situations rather than admit that he was hurting.

4. “I did not pursue emotional health.”

While this pastor may have had a great degree of biblical training and education (which some might have interpreted as spiritual maturity) he was not operating from a place of emotional health. He refused to deal with deep emotional wounds that were buried deep in his past.

5. “I failed to set healthy boundaries in my life.”

The sin of people pleasing and seeking validation from other co-dependent people kept this pastor from setting and keeping healthy boundaries in his life. This lack of boundaries made it possible for unhealthy relationships to form and grow.

6. “I broke my own rules and put myself in situations I should not have.”

At one time in his ministry, this man heeded the counsel of other godly, wise men who admonished him not to be alone with a woman behind closed doors, not to counsel a woman alone, not to go on lunch outings alone with another woman, or to be alone in a car together with a woman that wasn’t his wife. But somewhere along the way he got sloppy and began to violate these principles.

7. “I was not willing to seek counseling.”

While this pastor had logged countless hours counseling others, he did not see the need to seek counseling himself as his life grew more and more dysfunctional.

8. “I didn’t deal with pride in my life.”

Whether it was the easily recognizable form of pride that looks like an over-inflated ego, or the more subtle form of pride that takes on the pity-party-throwing self-focus of a victim mentality, this man’s life was full of both.

9. “I became bitter.”

Like every other pastor, this man had been hurt in ministry. But instead of properly processing that pain and leveraging it for growth, he became cynical and bitter. In time that cynicism was even directed toward God which resulted in spiritual callousness and passivity.

10. “I surrounded myself with weak people.”

Rather than surrounding himself with strong leaders who would have challenged and even disagreed with him at times, this man chose instead to be surrounded mostly by “yes men”, people who lacked the back bone to engage him in conflict.

11. “I withdrew from my family.”

As this pastor descended deeper into his deceitful lifestyle, he became more distant and withdrawn from his wife and children.

12. “I lied when confronted.”

As his trail of secret sin became known to others and he was questioned about it, instead of choosing to walk in humble repentance, he chose more lies and deception.

13. “I caused pain in many people’s lives.”

The sad reality is that our sin harms far more people than just ourselves. In this man’s case, the shockwaves of his betrayal and deception were felt far beyond his immediate family. For decades he had stood in the pulpit declaring God’s Word to hundreds, probably even thousands of people. As word of his adultery spread out into the Christian community, many people were left devastated and confused.

I want to challenge anyone reading this to learn from this man’s mistakes and heed the warning signs if they begin to surface in your life. I promise there is no short-term pleasure in this world that is worth throwing away your marriage, severing your relationships with your children, causing such deep pain in the hearts of God’s people, and bringing disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ. If you can identify one or more of the above confessions as descriptive of where you’re at in your life right now, I implore you to get help…and do it today!

Jon Sanders is the Lead Pastor of The RESCUE Church, a multi-site church with a passion to impact rural communities with the gospel. He is the host of the Small Town Big Church podcast, a weekly leadership podcast that encourages pastors to believe God for big things in small places. Jon has been married to his wife Jessica for 20 years and they have three children: Justin, Jennifer, and James. Jon is also a Firefighter/EMT with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue. You can contact Jon through his website: jonsanders.org