25 Small Group Facilitator Tips Small Groups

Facilitator Tip #24 – Subgroup Your Group When You Have 9 or More People

One the goals of your small group is to have everyone actively part of a weekly discussion. You want each person talking about what he is learning, how he is applying it to his life, and how his life is changing as a result. However, once you have nine or more people in your small group meeting, it is hard to get everyone involved in the discussion, therefore you need to subgroup your small group during discussion time.

SUBGROUP WHEN YOU HAVE NINE OR MORE PEOPLE AT YOUR MEETING[ref]“Subgrouping in this way will ensure that the doors of your small group remain open to seekers and other lost souls looking for the love of Christ. Not only does it develop leaders, but it also ensures that your small group atmosphere is conducive to adding friends.” Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose, p. 161[/ref]

Why Subgroup Your Small Group

When you bring up the idea of subgrouping to your people, they most likely will resist the idea. However, press on and subgroup your small group. Here are six reasons you need to subgroup your small group when you have nine or more people in your small group.

It Encourages Everyone to Participate

The goal is to have everyone actively participating in a discussion. Under the “Fellowshipping” value of LIFE at our church, we want to cultivate “Authenticity: trusting transparency (encouraged, but not pushed).” Putting people into smaller “subgroups” encourages that trusting transparency but doesn’t push it.

It Limits Discussion Dominators[ref]“Those who have learned to share easily with others what they are learning from God face the danger of failing to listen to what another Christian is saying. Too often we are so eager to share what we have learned that we fail to hear what God is saying to us through another believer. In such a case, we are not really interested in fellowship but rather in displaying our own knowledge of Scripture. We are playing spiritual one-upmanship.” Jerry Bridges, True Community, pp. 65-66.[/ref]

Some people naturally dominate the discussion in your small group; they don’t mean to, but it happens. Often it is because he is excited about the topic and passionate to share with others. So when you subgroup it helps limit how much that person dominates the discussion.

It Promotes Passive Listeners to Active Participants

Some people in your group will naturally be more quiet and not participate in the discussions. Maybe they have something they want to share but they are too shy and not assertive enough to say it. It is easy to hide in a group of ten people and not talk, but when you get subgrouped into a group of three or four people, it naturally encourages that person to share. Additionally, it provides a safe place for that person to share without the intimidation of having to talk in front of the entire group.

It Provides More Accountability for Application

The goal of small groups is for people to be applying what they are learning to their lives. In a subgroup of three or four people there can be more accountability about next steps people make and how they are applying what they are learning.

It Develops New Potential Leaders in Your Group

What better way to develop potential small group facilitators than to have some people start helping you to facilitate those smaller subgroups of three or four people. One thing I know for sure is that nothing stays the same. People change jobs, move to new cities, and change churches. The likelihood of someone joining your group and staying in your group until our Lord calls him to heaven is very small. Subgrouping your small group trains potential future small group leaders for when they might want to start a small group on their own in the future.

It Allows Your Group to Grow Big Yet Still Be Small

Subgrouping is a way to allow your group to grow in size with new members while keeping the intimacy and closeness among a group. It allows your group members to really go deep and love and encourage each other at a level they cannot without getting into sub-groups.

How to Subgroup Your Small Group

The Format of a Subgrouped Small Group

When you subgroup you want to follow three basic elements of your small group.

  • First, start the group with everyone together. This might be your “Unifying Question” time, reading the Bible aloud time, or watching the DVD teaching together.
  • Second, you subgroup into small groups for the discussion time. Try to group the men with men and the women with women. Or segment people together based on where they are sitting in the room.
  • Third, bring the entire group back together. This might be for prayer request time, for one last question, final thoughts and comments, or for snacks and fellowship.

As a general format for your subgrouped small group you will want to start out together, subgroup, then end the group together. 

The Picture of a Subgrouped Small Group

How you subgroup your small group will look different based on the type of curriculum that you are using for your small group.

If you are using the Wiersbe Bible study guides, I suggest you do the Unifying Question together as a group, read the passage together as a group, then subgroup for some of the questions in the guide, then come back together for some prayer and fellowship at the end of the group.

If you are using the Chip Ingram materials from Living on the Edge I suggest you enjoy some fellowship, do the Unifying Question, and watch the DVD teaching together as a big group. Then, you might want to subgroup for the discussion elements of the study guide or just subgroup them for the “BIO” part of the study guide. Then bring the group back together for prayer, fellowship, and snacks at the end of the group.

The Process of Subgrouping Your Small Group

Like I shared above, the first few times you tell your group that you are going to put them in small groups they will resist the idea. (That’s a good thing because they like each other and want to spend time with each other.) Here are some tips for subgrouping the group.

  • Don’t ask for leaders. When you start subgrouping don’t approach people in your group and say, “Hey, I want you to lead a small subgroup of people.” That will get a “No way” reply! Instead, be assertive and ask the subgroups to just answer one question together. Over time as you start to notice some people that take the lead in the groups, and that might provide you with some leaders.
  • Look for potential facilitators. If you see someone that has potential to be a good facilitator, you can approach that person and ask him to open and close the subgroup discussion. Look for the person that is faithful in attending each week, pays attention during group, brings a Bible, takes notes in the group, or regularly takes time to work through the lesson before arriving at the group meeting.
  • Assign people into groups. Don’t let them self-select into groups, Assign people into groups based on the area they are sitting. Put the men with other men and the women with other women. Assign people into a subgroup together who have had trouble getting along in your group in the past. Or maybe you subgroup your group based on stage of life with the widows together, the married couples together, the single people together, etc.

Conclusion on Subgrouping

When it is time for your group to discuss more personal and sensitive issues, divide up your group. You will need to divide if you have nine or more people in your group meeting.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at