Life Stages of a Small Group

students sitting on couches talking to each other

Discerning what God is doing in each lifecycle of a small group—beginning, middle, and end—and following God into that rhythm is crucial in establishing rhythms of community. This resource will help you know what to expect in each stage and how to prepare.


Beginning of a Small Group

At your first small group gathering, you are establishing together the spiritual rhythms of your small group community. Plan regular times of check-in to see how those rhythms are doing for your group and adjust them as God leads.

Step 1: Pray

Even before the small group begins, as a small group leader, pray for small group participants: those you know, those you don't know, those you hope to know. Ask God to remove obstacles for yourself and others to come and bring your full, authentic selves. Ask God to help you and others be able to hear from the Holy Spirit for the spiritual rhythms and mission of your small group.

Step 2: Cast vision and set group norms

At the first gathering, restate the vision and hope for the small group community. You could ask small group members to share what brought them to this small group and their hope for your time together. Then have a discussion to establish the spiritual and communal rhythms together, creating a safe, hospitable, and welcoming space for each other and God. Write down what you decide.

Example group norms

  • We agree to be as open and honest as we feel safe and to listen to each other without judgement or interrupting. We agree to share about what would help us to feel safe as far as we know it (including avoiding ethnic or gender-based humor), making sure everyone has a chance to speak if they want.
  • We all agree to meet at this time, date, and place at a regular rhythm and will tell someone if we can't make it.
  • We will be spiritually curious as we dig into the content of this small group. No question is too big or too small.
  • We decide together the content of this group (as a group leader, you should come prepared with a few options, unless you have set the topic ahead of time)
  • We will continually welcome people to our small group and practice winsomely inviting people to our community.
  • We will have a small group check-in (once a month or every other month) to make sure we are on mission together.
  • Conflict between small group members is normal. When we find ourselves in conflict we will choose to name that moment and seek resolution.
Step 3: Bond as a group

Spending small group time bonding is a great way to set the tone of safety and vulnerability in your small group and establish trust. Inviting small group members to share their stories is a great way to begin. Remember that as a small group leader, you set the tone of safety and others will only share as deeply or transparently as you do. One way to bond is by doing the activity below.

Share your story activity

  • Invite 2-3 members to share their story each week (10-15 mins each)
  • Have a prompt or question that can help guide their sharing:
    • If my life were a book, the chapter titles would be...
    • Here are some keys places where life really changed for me...
    • There are the 5 most important “yeses” I’ve said to Jesus...
  • As the leader, be prepared to go first and model depth and vulnerability

Note: Small group bonding time outside of small group can also be a way to develop friendships, trust, and establishing a healthy culture in your small group! Name some activities you already do (for example, studying, working out, preparing and eating meals, laundry, gaming, shopping) and invite others to join you. Encourage small group members to follow each other on social media, pray for one another outside of small group, etc.


Middle of a Small Group

So you've been meeting for a few weeks, grown closer in friendships, have been praying for the people in your relational networks and for each other, and have begun studying Scripture together. Here's what to pay attention to:

Step 1: Maintain space for Bible study and prayer

Bible study and prayer are important pieces of a small group, so ensure that there is space for both you continue on! If you need content, check out these ready-made Bible studies or tips on leading listening prayer.

Step 2: Lead graciously through conflict

Conflict in your small group can feel scary, but it can actually be a good sign that your small group is becoming safe enough to have tension. Nervous about how to handle it? Check out these tips for navigating conflict.

Step 3: Identify the new/next small group leader

Four to six weeks before the end of your small group, discern the next leader of the small group. Not sure how to identify one? Check out these tips for developing leaders.


End of a Small Group

Small groups usually end due to circumstances like the end of a semester or academic year. They may end because the group agreed on a certain number of weeks you all would meet regularly. As you see the ending date approaching, here are some steps you can take to end well, and set you and your small group participants up for a new beginning to come:

Step 1: Plan a Celebration

Set a date and time with your small group for your last small group together. Assign different small group members different parts of the celebration to execute on: different people to bring the food, set up the space, etc.

Step 2: Remember what was hard and affirm the good

Plan for time to lead the group through remembering and naming the most significant moments of being in community together.

Sample activities

  • Invite small group members to finish this sentence: "I knew I was cared for by this small group when this happened..." This acknowledges the significant milestones of your community.
  • Play "The Affirmation Game" where each small group member is given three affirmations from others in the small group. Small group members can affirm by saying, "I saw you grow this small group in this way...," "I see this attribute or characteristic in you that blesses others...," etc.
Step 3: Pray and commission
  • Bless those who are in difficult circumstances to be empowered by God to persevere in faith.
  • Bless each person to go into what God has for them next.
  • If there are apprentices in your small group who are future small group leaders, pray for them to commission them into leadership. To commission is to send. Pray for their leadership and their future small group.
  • Give thanks for what God has done in your group.


green icon of rocket

Accelerated  Resource

This resource has been tested and approved by InterVarsity’s National Strategy & Innovation team for campus ministry. Explore more resources by visiting the Accelerated Small Group Leadership Collection.


Resource Topic - Primary
Resource Type
What did you think of this resource?

Anna serves as InterVarsity's National Director of Discipleship & Growth. She has the joy of innovating and strategizing with staff, students, and faculty around the country to follow Jesus. A second generation Chinese American born and raised in NYC, Anna was a social worker in a pediatric AIDS clinic before serving with InterVarsity. She has both a MSW and BA from NYU. She lives in Queens, NY with her husband and two daughters. Anna enjoys eating adventures with gracious people. 

Dave serves as the Associate National Director of Growth and loves to integrate growth and discipleship holistically. He and his family near Ann Arbor in Michigan where he has been a volunteer, Associate Regional Director and everything in between before his current role. He is nearly finished with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Regent College in Vancouver.