An Easy Way to Understand Small Group Development & Where Things Go Wrong (& Right)

Summary:  The FACTS model allows groups to take stock of where they’re at in their development as they journey through the phases of freedom, alignment, congruence, truth and spirit.

I love frameworks.  Being predominantly left-brained, I like how they guide me in thinking about subjects.  They give structure and process to things that can be more difficult to think through, making it easier to see how everything relates together into a cohesive whole.  They also can provide a way to communicate what to expect and diagnose how things are going.  They give you something tangible to refer to when you’re looking at measuring how you’re progressing relative to what you hope to accomplish.

Group development

In the book The Art of Facilitation, Dale Hunter provides us with a framework for group development that can be referenced to help small groups do these things.  Take a look at the visual model he provides on the right.  It outlines a spiral process that all groups go through as they grow together.

Why a spiral?  Because this process is not one that’s ever completed.  As groups grow and change, they’ll find themselves operating in these stages at various seasons of their existence.  What this framework does is allow groups to take stock of where they are at in the process, as well as where they might be getting stuck and why.

If you’re a part of a small group or Kingdom community, this can help you better understand why your group may be continuously having trouble getting through one of the phases.  Or maybe why you lose people every time you’re in a particular phase.  Or maybe why a group you were a part of in the past now ceases to exist.  Or maybe why you yourself chose to leave a particular group.

In all of these scenarios, this framework (the FACTS model) should help you understand them better.  Let’s take a short walk through each of these 5 phases.  As you go through them, remember that these phases aren’t strictly linear; meaning you don’t necessarily start one when another ends.  They can be overlapping.  But this is generally the process groups must go through if they hope to grow and thrive.


The first phase involves each individual’s freedom of choice to be a part of, committed, involved in and accountable to the group.  Now we’re not just talking about showing up when it’s convenient.  That might work in an institutional spectator-type setting where people can basically come in and out and simply be consumers.  If you’re in a Kingdom community, anything short of being all-in is going to result in problems when you get to the later phases.

Why?  Because the later phases are too hard to work through unless you’re all-in.  Now we’re not saying there can’t be a honeymoon-type phase at the beginning, because there will be.  But as the newness of the relationships start to wear off, everyone needs to decide if they’re in or out or subsequent phases will be more difficult-to-impossible to navigate through.

If, for instance, you only come to half the meetings or only see people at the meetings, imagine how stunted your relationships will be compared to all the others.  It shouldn’t be hard to see the issues with that.

But each person is totally free to choose if you will be committed or not.


For a group to really gain momentum in their life together, they must be in agreement on their shared vision, mission and intentions (under the umbrella of God’s grander mission of course).  And this doesn’t mean a select few draft up a mission statement together.  This must involve the whole community as equal parts.  The only way to be truly aligned is if everyone is equally involved in the alignment.

In this phase, you’re taking stock of the foundational principles you’re going to live by as a group; as well as setting the culture and environment.  You’re basically answering the question “why do we exist?”

As a group, you’ll feel when it’s time to do some alignment.  People will start asking questions like “how are we going to move forward?”  As the group moves and grows and changes, you’ll also feel when it’s time for a re-alignment.


Once a group is set and comfortable on why they exist, they should start to think about what they’re going to do about it.  They hammer out and get creative on how they’re going to flesh out their purpose in the world.  What are the specific behaviors, boundaries, investments, activities, etc. that will mark their day-to-day existence together?  How will they invest their time, money and energy together?  As they discover each other through relationship, who has what gifting, who will take on what roles and who will carry what responsibilities for the good of the group as a whole?

During this stage, groups are supposed to decrease the distance between what they believe, what they say and what they do.  Many of the groups I’ve been a part of in the past have had a lot of trouble getting through this phase because it’s one that requires a higher level of sacrifice than the ones before it.  Many groups have no problem sitting around drinking coffee and talking about what they SHOULD do.  But when it comes to execution that inevitably requires sacrifices, changes in behavior and the adjustment of time, money and energy investments; well that’s another level altogether.


What happens through the last two phases will provide an opportunity for everyone.  The opportunity is to be truthful with ourselves and with one another.  It’s to open our minds and hearts to who we are as reflected in our choices and behaviors at any given point in time.  This may be the toughest phase of all because it requires a humble heart, the desire to grow and the willingness to trust the Lord is using and will use His body to grow you in ways you never knew you needed.

This is where the truth meets love and people are set free from their unhealthy emotions, beliefs and behavior.  They dissolve as they mature in Christ.

It’s also the step people are most likely to run from because it takes a great deal of patience, humility and love toward each other to power through it.  But if you can, it will propel the group toward…


If you decide to get on the cross and die to yourselves during the Truth phase, your group will start to experience the fruits of Christian community.  You will be fulfilling the new commandment in increasing measure and the fruits of the Spirit will flow from that as you grow up into fully developed Christians (little Christ’s).  You will multiply and expand the Kingdom as you draw other humans (and persecution).  You and others will truly understand why you call yourselves a “Kingdom community.”  Everything you’ve always read about being a Christian will come alive like never before.

A word of caution

It’s fairly dangerous to try to force these phases, especially if you try and force them out of order.  For example, if you first try and tell the truth to one another before developing strong relationship bonds, it will likely take you down.  Now I’m not talking about the Truth (capital T) about Christ, the gospel and the Kingdom.  Those are prerequisites to even be a part of the community.  I’m talking about the truth (lowercase t) about each other like your issues, character, behavior, etc.  There has to be a strong relational foundation for the house to be built on before you get to that phase.  So we must give it time.  You can’t microwave Kingdom community.  Nor is there a drive-thru where you can pick it up.  (Here’s more on building healthy relationships in community.)

This FACTS model is a helpful, simple one that won’t build community, nor is it a prescription for all groups everywhere to follow.  But it certainly can help gain a perspective about the life of your group and the environment in which it grows.

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