Every group has norms, whether they are stated or unstated, examined or unexamined. If you are overseeing small groups in your ministry, I would suggest there are significant advantages to be had by stating, examining, processing, and reinforcing small groups guidelines and norms.  

set up guidelines and norms for your small group

There are significant advantages to be had by stating, examining, processing, and reinforcing small groups guidelines and norms. Share on X

What do we mean by norms?

Here are some examples: be present, show up on time, practice respect, protect confidentiality, no unsolicited advice, listen without interrupting. Whatever group norms you decide on, these are the principles you believe will make your group work with your people in your cultural context. Because of that they will vary by ministry, which is good and healthy.   

6 steps to set up guidelines and norms

Here’s a process I’d suggest using if you’d like to clarify and communicate group norms: 

1. Start with something.

The process is difficult if you start with a completely blank slate. Come up with three to five potential group norms you can bring to your group. For instance, having an outward focus. That is then something you can take to step two. 

2. Run it by the group for discussion.

Whatever norms you have won’t amount to much if they are not embraced by the group. You need buy-in. Bring your ideas to the group and let them ask questions, make comments, and offer suggestions. You may find some extremely helpful ideas this way, which leads to step three. 

3. Clarify and tweak.

Using feedback from the group, incorporate the best ideas and those that are most agreed upon. Sometimes you’ll need to consolidate similar ideas and refine the wording so they communicate well… leading to step four. 

4. Formally communicate the guidelines and norms.

Put them in writing, read them out loud, commit them to memory, do what works in your group to communicate well. These are the finalized and stated norms that the group is agreeing to live by. 

5. Lead by example.

Leaders must begin leading by example. If you have a norm of personal vulnerability, you’ll need to be the first to share your own weaknesses and failings and demonstrate how to bring those to Jesus. Your actions as a leader open the way for others to practice the norms. 

6. Reinforce practiced norms.

When you see others do good things, affirm them: “Thanks for letting us know in advance that you couldn’t attend.” It may be simple, but it matters. It means you noticed and when you say something, it means everyone else then notices as well. And then is more likely to also let you know ahead of time if they need to miss a group gathering. 

Keep in mind

The best guidelines and norms explain why a group works. Periodically revisit and reevaluate your norms to assess what’s working well and what may need to be changed or improved. 


An Undivided Heart: Living and Loving like Jesus– Focusing on discipleship from the inside out, our latest release is a great book to read through in small groups.

Finding the Flow– Written to help give bring life and order into small groups, this book equips small group leaders with skills that will draw people toward Christ in authentic ways. There is also a downloadable Finding the Flow Small Group Training Kit with everything you need to facilitate discussion and learning with your small group team.

Photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash