I recently came across this fascinating video about a World War II propaganda poster from Great Britain. The poster features a burnt-orange background and an outline of the royal crown, along with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Designed for distribution during times of attack or invasion, the poster was never actually circulated to the public. In fact, nobody would even remember it existed if not for the owners of a store called Barter Books in northeast England. They liked the poster, had it framed, and hung it on one of the walls of their store.

In the years since, the poster has become one of the iconic images from the 20th century.

“Keep Calm and Carry On.” I think that would’ve been a great slogan for a war-torn world more than 70 years ago.

And I think it’s a great slogan for small-group leaders today.

Bad Stuff Will Happen

If you happen to lead a small group, or if you’re thinking about leading one in the future, there’s at least one thing I can promise you: Bad things are going to happen.

Not terrible things. You won’t need to contend with murderous Nazis or anything like that. But bad things will happen for sure.

People in your group will experience conflict, for example. Or you’ll spend a lot of money buying a curriculum series that bombs. Or someone you really like will leave the group because they’re “not being fed.” Or your church will decide that your group has become too large and needs to be split.

Or all of the above.

When those things happen, you’ll be tempted to throw your hands up and walk away. Maybe you’ve experienced that temptation in the past. Maybe you’re experiencing it now.

You don’t have to be pushed around by those negative circumstances, though. You have the ability and the capacity to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Because the success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader.

It’s Not Up to You

That’s worth repeating: The success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader. In fact, if it were up to us to produce healthy and growing small groups, we would always fail.

Think about it: You are not able to transform ten people from spiritual infants to spiritual giants by meeting with them once a week. You are not equipped to change peoples’ lives by cooking up some nachos and writing a few discussion questions. Billy Graham is not equipped to do that.

Rather, any spiritual growth that occurs in a small group has its source in God. It’s the Holy Spirit that transforms people and conforms them to the image of Christ. Not you. Not your ability to purchase the perfect Bible study.

In other words, any success that your small group experiences can be credited to God. It’s not up to you.

So, when those bad things happen, you don’t have to worry that they will prevent people from growing spiritually. You don’t have to worry that your failures will somehow damage the people you care about.

You are free to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

—Sam O’Neal is author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders (coming in May 2012 from InterVarsity Press) and an editor for LifeWay Christian Resources.


Ever led a small group meeting but found out you weren’t? Somebody else seemed to take over. It happens all the time. Groups are made up of so many different kinds of people and some of them can kill your small group. In case you’re wondering just how many different types there might be, no one knows for sure but Les Parrot, Ph.D gave us a great book titled How to Handle Impossible People, High-Maintenance Relationships. Each chapter deals with a different type of person. You may want to do a slow read and ask yourself, “Who in my group fits in this category?” Here they are:

• The Critic – Constantly Complains and Gives Unwanted Advice
• The Martyr – Forever the Victim and Wracked with Self-Pity
• The Wet Blanket – Pessimistic and Automatically Negative
• The Steamroller – Blindly Insensitive to Others
• The Gossip – Spreads Rumors and Leaks Secrets
• The Control Freak – Unable to Let Go and Let Be
• The Backstabber – Irrepressibly Two-Faced
• The Cold Shoulder – Disengages and Avoids Conflict
• The Green-Eyed Monster – Seethes with Envy
• The Volcano – Builds Steam and Is Ready to Erupt
• The Sponge – Constantly in Need but Gives Nothing Back
• The Competitor – Keeps Track of Tit for Tat
• The Workhorse – Always Pushes and Is Never Satisfied
• The Flirt – Imparts Innuendoes, Which May Border on Harassment
• The Chameleon – Eager to Please and Avoids Conflict

This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the types of people you will have in the room each time you meet. From my experience there are four types that wreak havoc on and cause a small group meeting to crash without any hope of rebooting that night. Here they are:

  1. The Rambler. The Rambler can’t give a quick answer to any question. Their initial response may be right on target but then they branch out into other areas of conversation that do not pertain to the core discussion.
  2. The Runner. The Runner wants to finish the study more than they want to see lives transformed. The Runner will not allow the conversation to veer from the curriculum and will push the group’s facilitator to on to the next question. The Runner is dangerous because they will never allow any part of the conversation to go on long enough to progress into a third layer discussion.
  3. The Story-teller. The Story-teller has a story to go along with nearly every topic of conversation. The problem with the stories he/she tells is that they don’t necessarily enhance the Bible study, reveal what God is doing or has done in her/her life, or help others to realize God is still at work for them. Stories told for the purpose of entertaining the group are distractions to the goals of the group.
  4. The Comedian. The comedian finds it necessary to “crack a joke” anytime he/she feels the door is open for a humorous moment. In most instances The Comedian is actually uncomfortable with where the experience is headed, especially when the group is about to arrive at a high risk, third layer discussion. Perhaps subconsciously this person, due to the discomfort she/he feels, redirects the emotions so that she/he will not have to go into deep places.

I would love to hear from you. If you’ve had someone in your group that fit any of these four categories, how about posting the type you had to deal with and then tell me what you did to save the group.