This One Word Can Stall Your Church’s Growth

Steve Perky

I have seen it happen numerous times. The pastor and leadership have worked hard to implement a small group program into their church. While things were slower in the beginning than the pastor wanted, within a year the small groups began to catch on and grow to have too many members. With the optimal size of a healthy group being 10-15 people, the well-meaning pastor or leader initiates the next level of growth by reminding the small groups it is time to……(well, this is where it gets ugly)

Photo by: © Steve Perky
Photo by: © Steve Perky

The intent is for the small groups to grow by birthing new small groups. This means that when a small group gets beyond the optimal 10-15, they send out some of their group to form a new group. Then each of these two groups has room to grow again to the optimal 10-15 members and repeat the cycle.

What is so ugly about that? Is that not evidence of a healthy growing church?

Well, here is the ugly part. The one word that I often hear in this process is “divide.” This conjures up negative feelings among the small group members. Leadership will say, “It is time to divide this group into two.”

To divide is to split, to cut off, to sever. In this context I have witnessed small group members begin to mourn the loss of their group. The end result is both groups dissolving and developing hurt feelings and bitterness.

The better word to use is “birth” or “plant.” The original group has become a parent group giving birth to a new group. They have become a sending body planting a new group.

While there may still be mourning over the tight community felt within the original small group, there is now focus on the positive growth that is happening.

The leadership may not even use the word divide. However, it is my experience that group members will gravitate to the concept of dividing unless the leadership actively trains group leaders to guide the group members to not even use the word divide. There has to be a very active culture of focusing on birthing and planting.


This seems like a simple matter of semantics. However, this is one word the pastor and leadership must intentionally labor to root out of the organization for it can become a virus that will stall your church's growth.

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How have you seen innocent vocabulary affect the growth of your church? What other words do you recommend besides “birth” and “plant?” Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

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