The Need for Accountability in Groups

CJ StephensGUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky


I hear the stories over and over again. They vary in subtle ways, yet they’re always about that person in your group—the one who seems to have everything together. Their life is going perfectly. Their family is great. They are making more money than they ever have. They love their job.

And then one day, out of the blue, their life falls apart.

It turns out that everything wasn’t as great as it seemed. Maybe they weren’t in such a great financial position. Maybe their marriage was a sham. Maybe the person was dealing with a secret sin.

I wish I could say this kind of thing never happens in our groups, that it never happens in our church. But it does, and each time, it breaks my heart. It can happen in your group, too, if your group lacks something critical: accountability.

Honestly, I hate accountability. I like to make plans. I like to come up with grand ideas about getting healthy or saving money. But I hate when someone holds me to those plans. I’d rather just make the plan and then give up on it whenever it becomes inconvenient for me.

Yet, I grow the most when I’m held accountable. This is true for your group as well. Your group will grow closer to each other and grow in their spiritual walks when they are being held accountable.

Cross the Line

The major barrier in our groups to accountability is an unwillingness to cross the line. You know the line—the line between comfortable, polite dialogue and discussions about touchy, sensitive topics in your life. So many of our groups never get past the surface level of life. They never move beyond the comfortable. Yet, it’s just across that line where we can ignite the most growth.

I want to give you a word of warning. It takes time and sensitivity to know when and where you can cross the line from casual friendship to speaking truth into someone’s life. The most important thing is that the person to whom you are trying to talk knows you are doing it out of a place of love. They need to know you have their best interests at heart. They need to know you are not meddling or teasing, but helping them in their walk with Christ.

Hold Them to It

Once your group is in a place where you can deeply speak into their lives, you need to consistently hold them accountable. I’ve been in groups in which people bring up the same relational troubles over and over. I know people who mention the same sin issues repeatedly and never seem to make any progress. How can we help those people move forward?

I’ve found one question to be helpful to you as a leader: “What steps are you going to take this week to change that?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but it has helped me enormously. It asks the person to do two things: make a plan to remedy the situation and get to work on it quickly. Let’s discuss each briefly.

Make a plan: Many of our problems never get solved because we never make a plan. By asking group members to make a plan to change, you are asking them to think more deeply about the situation and come up with a solution.

Get to work on it quickly—this week. Our nature is usually to let things go on and on without a solution simply because the solution is uncomfortable. By putting a timeline on the plan, it makes the problem immediate.

And here’s where the accountability comes in. The next time you see that person, ask him or her, “How’s that going?” This part is crucial. If you don’t check back with them, you aren’t holding them accountable. Check in on them. Bother them. Pester them until they start to make progress. Let them know you are on their side, but challenge them to find a solution.

If you love your friends, you’ll want them to grow. You’ll want to see them change. Love them enough to challenge them. Don’t wait until the problem blows up their life and they must then try to pick up the pieces. Keep your group accountable.


This blog post originally appeared in “Leader Connect,” a newsletter for small group leaders at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

C.J. Stephens on Prayer in Group Life

CJ StephensToday’s guest blogger is C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church. Because I lead a Northeast small group, I receive C.J.’s monthly newsletter called “Leader Connect.” This past month, C.J. wrote about prayer in groups, an important topic for leaders, and I thought he hit the nail on the head. 

GUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding parts of group life is prayer.

It’s something that is incredibly difficult for some of our people. Maybe you’re one of those people.  Some of us have never learned to pray. Some of us make it harder on ourselves than we need to. And most of all, we don’t know how to incorporate it into our group time in a healthy way.

What is Prayer?

For me, this has been a question that I’ve been asking myself as I’m raising my kids. Right now we have our kids say prayers before bed and before meals. However, like most parents I’m struggling with the concept of teaching them what prayer really is. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of what some friends of mine use when they are teaching their children. When it is meal time, they simply say “OK, it’s time to talk to God.”

It’s really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. When I’m discussing these things with people in groups, that’s the way I try to frame it. God knows everything about you, but He wants you to talk to Him. He wants to know what is on your heart and your mind. He wants to hear from you.

It's really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. Click To Tweet

For some of us, this is tough. So many people I know are honesty afraid to be too frank with God. They don’t want to upset Him, I guess. But the Bible is full of all kinds of prayers. Some are prayers of thankfulness. Some are prayers asking God for something. Some are prayers of anger or lament. God knows your heart. He simply wants to hear from you.

How Does Prayer Fit into My Group? 

So how does this fit into my group? How does prayer affect group life?

In most of our groups, we have a time for prayer requests. As you are well aware, this can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes people in your group honestly share their hearts with the others in the group. It can be a time where people really grow closer to each other. It can be a time for vulnerability and leaning one another.  That’s the point to prayer time in group.

However, you also know that it can be a time for endless requests. It can seem like a litany of dismay coming from the people in your group. It can also honestly just go too long. That’s the downside.

Despite all of that, I am a big believer in corporate prayer in your group. I think that the benefits can far outweigh the negatives. Where else do our people have the opportunity to share the difficult and challenging things in their life with people who care for them? Where else will you find out about the things the people in your group have weighing on them.

That being said, there are opportunities for improvement. If you find that this time if beginning to be stale or rote, change it up. Ask everyone for the top issue you can pray for. Do a popcorn style prayer where you pray as a group and challenge your people to say a short request. Do prayer time at a different time in your group. Sometimes putting as the first thing you do can shorten it up.

I would also suggest changing who is doing the praying. As the group leader, it is often your role to get things rolling. However, if everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. If you want someone else to pray, I’d suggest talking to them ahead of time and getting their permission. No one likes to be put on the spot!

If everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. Click To Tweet

Lastly, I want to encourage you to be in prayer for your group members in between your meetings. Sometimes this is something that we let go by the wayside as leaders. However, praying for your group between sessions can be powerful. Take some time during your week to pray for them and their family. I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. This can draw you together and strengthen your group.

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”  – Oswald Chambers

Join the discussion about this post. What would you add to C.J.’s suggestions on improving group prayer? What has worked for your group? What other questions or comments do you have about this? Scroll down and click to comment!