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Setting Clear Expectations with a Covenant

Written by Bob Martin on

Leaders and Coaches

“Why is it that this person just doesn’t show up?”  As leaders, it’s discouraging when men and women don’t show up: whether by physical absenteeism or by their lackluster participation in discussion and relationships.  How can we remedy this?  Part of the answer is by setting clear expectations for your group and following through with them.

Setting Expectations

The leader needs to know the vision of the group.  What is your vision for the involvement of men and women in your Small Group?

  • Do you have any expectation that people show up? How often?
  • Should they participate in discussion? Share during prayer time?
  • Anything you think they should do outside of the gatherings?

These might seem like no-brainers to you. But these things likely aren’t on the minds of those in your group.  You have to help them know what the group expectations.

One tool for setting expectations is having a Small Group covenant.  There’s no need to get hung up on the language: a “covenant” is just an agreement.  You can call it something different if you wish.  The spirit of a covenant is simply to outline the agreed upon expectations for everyone in the group.  For example:

As a part of this Small Group, I am committing to do my best to:

  • Attend regularly (at least 75% of our biweekly gatherings)
  • Participate openly in our discussion and prayer times
  • Pray for those in the group outside of gatherings
  • Help keep others accountable in their walk with Jesus
  • Look for and participate in opportunities to do life together with those in the group.


John Smith

You don’t have to write down your expectations, and many groups don’t.  Instead, you can share them verbally with the group (perhaps regularly, since vision leaks).  Or you could even rally the group together to talk through what they think are good expectations that you should have for each other.  That could provide some great discussion!

However, if you do choose to implement a formal covenant, remember that this covenant exists to help these brothers and sisters grow in godliness and relationship, not just to achieve high standards.  Be sensitive in how you implement it and simple in your expectations.  People do weather unusually busy or difficult seasons. They sometimes need extra reminders.  And first-time visitors certainly don’t need this covenant thrust in their face immediately.  Instead, it’s wiser to bring up the covenant after their fourth or fifth time attending and allow them to ask questions and pray about it for a few weeks.

Remember the “Why”

Remember the “why” underneath the covenant.  Why should I keep this covenant? Because it is how I am going to deepen relationships in this group, benefit from these discussions, and demonstrate that I actually care about the others in this group.  

If those three things aren’t important to someone, they should strongly reconsider if they actually care about this Small Group.  If you discuss these “whys” with someone a few times and they still refuse to keep the covenant, it’s probably time to graciously let them know that they should exit the group.

Following Through

“But how do I actually make sure that people respond to these expectations?” Care and accountability. Always lead by caring: first listen to why they missed Small Group this month (see James 1:19-20), then you can determine the next step.  People care about whether you care.  After this, you can determine how to help keep them accountable:  

  • Do they need to be reminded (they forgot)?
  • Do they need to be prayed for (because it’s related to a spiritual struggle)?
  • Do they need personal involvement from you or (even better) someone else in the group?  
  • Do they need to be encouraged to take the next step or else transition out? (You can simply share with them that if these aren’t steps they are willing to take, it doesn’t make sense for them to consider themselves a part of the group.)  

Good accountability involves both empathy and clarity. But it also requires humility. As Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-5).  Start by asking yourself: “Have I clearly shared and modeled the vision for this group?  Where have I been unhelpful?”  Then you’ll be ready to reach out to that person who just isn’t showing up.

Bob Martin

Bob first joined staff at College Park as a Pastoral Resident in 2011 and has served in several important roles since that time. He now serves as the Pastor of Membership & Connection. Bob is passionate about seeing men and women enter into community with others to find hope together. He enjoys spending time with his wife, family, and friends.

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