5 Reasons Leading a Small Group Is a Struggle

I’ve had the blessing of leading a small group Bible study at my church for ten years. During that time, my faith has grown, my love for God and His Word has multiplied, and I've had the joy of doing this alongside dear sisters in Christ. 

While leading a small group is a blessing, it can also be challenging! Iron sharpening iron is a good thing, yet painful at the same time. Perhaps you’ve experienced what I mean? When iron sharpens iron, there is fire and sparks involved, with a rubbing away of our rough edges. As I look back on my years of studying the Word with a group of women, I can trace back and see five reasons why it can be challenging. 

The Small Group Struggle

1. We are all sinners.

Since none of us are perfect, there will be times of tension, disagreement, and conflict within our small groups. But as you know, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and it is by grace we have been saved, through faith (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:8). 

I’ve learned from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth to “breathe grace in and breathe grace out.” As leaders, we can’t be afraid to address sin, but we must also remember the grace God has shown to us. Let’s be quick to extend grace and quick to forgive, just as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). 

As grace-filled leaders who receive God’s grace in full measure, we are equipped to extend this grace to others out of overflow. Remembering and obtaining His grace benefits us as leaders but also benefits our group by preventing weeds or “roots of bitterness” from sprouting up (Heb. 12:15). 

Breathing out grace often requires being self-controlled in our actions and reactions with those in our group. Sometimes it means being a patient servant-listener when you would rather share your opinion or move to a different topic. Instead of cutting someone off or trying to “fix” whatever problem she may be sharing, let’s be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). In my head, I often have to remind my mouth: quick, slow, slow. 

2. Our flesh is selfish.

Philippians 2:3–4 says, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

In our small groups, counting others as more significant takes time, energy, and sacrifice. Some days, we would rather leave right after our small group is over instead of talking with a lonely sister. Some evenings, we might not feel like preparing for another lesson. Some mornings, we may be so tired we don’t want to tidy up our living rooms or get the chairs out. But as we humbly look to the interests of others above our own, God will lift us up in due time. 

3. Honesty about sin can be tough.

As I lead small groups, this continues to be a challenge for me. I want the ladies I lead to like me and maybe even look up to me. But what is at the root of that? My pride. It’s my pride that prevents me from sharing where I miss the mark and where I have not walked in obedience to the Lord. I am talking to myself here, but one of our goals for our time as we gather in small groups should be to tell others how glorious our God is, not to try to show others how good we think we are. 

James 4:6 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

During 2020, I wrote a blog post about my pandemic struggles called, “The Beauty and Blessing of Weakness.” Even though it was difficult to share my shortcomings, women could relate to my struggles. 

To be honest, I often feel weak in my motherhood. I am not creative, I don’t like to play games, and I often overreact to messes. When things get hard at home, instead of crying out to God, I often call my husband or a babysitter for help.

I once told a group of women the story of how I had packed my girls a “sandwich” for lunch with no meat or anything in it. It was just a bun. But we didn’t have anything else at the time, and I was too tired to go to the grocery store. While I don’t think packing them a bun was a sin, it did make me feel like a failure. When the session was over, women began to share with me all of the ways they felt inadequate in their parenting. 

In our small groups, we don’t want to ruminate or go on and on about our failures, but we also don’t need to be afraid to share our shortcomings and sins. 

In fact, 1 John 1:6–7 says, 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

As we walk in the light together, it truly fosters greater fellowship with our sisters. As leaders, when we are not afraid to bring our struggles into the light, this creates a safe space for other women to share what has been hiding in darkness. Sometimes Satan whispers, “You are the only one who struggles with this sin, so you better not share it with anyone,” or he may say, “You will never be free from this sin.” These lies keep us in darkness, prevent us from walking in the light together, and inhibit us from living in the freedom Christ died for us to experience.

In one of my small groups, I invited each woman to share her testimony. For the first fifteen minutes of our study, we took turns sharing how we came to know the Lord. Some of the women I had known for years, but had no idea the losses they experienced or the childhood challenges they had endured. As each of us were honest about the depths from which Jesus had saved us, our fellowship in the light was sweet and left us in awe of God’s transforming work.

4. Some women are hard to love.

Please tell me I am not alone in this! There may be a woman in your group who is overly talkative, who tries to take over the group, who has a temperament very different than yours, or maybe you just can’t put your finger on what rubs you the wrong way about her.

In the book of Ruth, I imagine that it was a challenge for Ruth to love Naomi at times. Naomi was bitter about the circumstances of her life. Even when Ruth tried to love and follow her, Naomi resisted at first. Loving those who are angry or bitter can be a bit like hugging a cactus. 

Susan Hunt shared at a Revive Our Hearts women’s leader webinar, “God can make the stiff-necked people in your life dear to you.”

And you know what? I can honestly say I have found this to be true. 

Loving others in our own strength is hard, but since we have God’s Spirit inside us, we are equipped to do difficult things. In Christ, we have the fruits of the Spirit—the first one on the list in Galatians 5:22 is love!

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). So when our flesh rises up and we don’t feel the love, we can count on love being provided through a supernatural source.

One of my most memorable small groups included a diverse mix of college students from young singles to mothers and grandmothers. As a married woman, it was beneficial for me to hear about the challenges of college life, and I loved hearing from the older women who had gone through various seasons of life ahead of me. I remember learning that it’s hard to be a mother-in-law, which, in my selfishness, I had never considered. I was warned about how quickly the time from the birth of a child to an empty nest passes. I was reminded of the struggles that come with singleness. 

With a diverse group of women at various life stages, there will be tremendous blessings, but there will also be women who are very different from you. There may be women who are more difficult to love initially, but as you share life together, study His Word, and pray together, your rough edges get rubbed off, and so do your sisters’, as we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

5. Giving up is a real temptation.

Since you and the ladies you lead are likely busy, you may want to stop meeting due to frustration, women not doing their homework, or preparation fatigue. Or maybe you don’t see much evidence of fruit or some women have left the group. It’s difficult when you invest a lot of time preparing and then women cancel at the last minute or simply don’t show up. While some groups run their course and it is time to stop meeting, for others, you may simply need to persevere. You may need to persist even if your group is smaller than you imagined or the participants are not as enthusiastic about studying the Bible as you are. 

Something Satan likes to whisper to me is that my group isn’t really making an impact for the kingdom because it is, well, small. Or sometimes when I am typing up yet another weekly email update or replying to all manner of questions, Satan plants the lie that “these are menial tasks.” However, the truth is that God will bless us for our hard work, no matter the task at hand, because “in all toil there is profit” (Prov. 14:23).

In your small group leadership, you may feel like working on spreadsheets, running errands, returning emails, or stuffing bags is not important. However, we need to be faithful in what we may perceive as small. God may use one email or one ministry event to change the trajectory of a woman’s life. We may never know when a “menial” or mindless task will result in something eternally significant.

Colossians 3:23–24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” 

When I was a teenager, our youth pastor’s wife, Wendy, used to drive me home from youth group on Sunday nights. I still remember that as I sat across from her in the passenger seat of her van, she asked me questions about my life. She taught me about Jesus. She loved me and did not judge me when I was walking through the difficulties of being a teenage girl. While this could have been just another task on Wendy’s “to-do” list, she did it unto the Lord, and I still cherish those conversations we had many years ago.

If you are tempted to give up on your group or you feel bogged down in what seems like mundane tasks, remember we work heartily for the Lord. As we sow seeds each week, we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9). 

There will be challenges in leading a small group, but remember it is God who equips us with everything good to do His will (Heb. 13:21). Jesus’ return is closer than it has ever been, so let’s encourage “one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). 

About the Author

Nicole Furno

Nicole Furno has a passion for studying and teaching God's Word. After working in the medical field as a Physican's Assistant, Nicole received her Masters in Biblical Studies from Moody Theological Seminary and has transitioned into writing discipleship studies and serving in women's ministry. She and her husband have three children and live in Chicago.