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The role small groups play in society

Updated on May 26, 2014

A brief history of the modern small group movement

The small group has always been a significant phenomenon throughout history. Ancient Judaism and the early Christian church used small gatherings and an effective platform for expression. Small groups have also played an important role in religious renewal movement such as the early monasticism of the third and fourth century, the Oxford Group in England that eventually inspired the Evangelical Revival and its social ramifications.

Small groups have demonstrated their effectiveness and importance in a wide variety of interesting ways especially in the field of psychotheraphy. Traditional psychiatry and psychotheraphy was practiced in a one-to-one relationship between doctor and client, with primary attention afforded to the inner psycho phenomena with the aim of providing insight and understanding. The client’s personal awareness and motivation to avoid pain and subsequently grow was expected to occur or reach a more satisfying acceptance of the difficulties.

Medical treatment became more sophisticated and effective ways of treating mental health clients pursued. One-to-one psychiatry and pyschotheraphy was also expensive and not readily available to the masses that needed help particularly the state hospitals where public funds were in short demand. Group counseling emerged and several hospital patients or out-patient clients could meet together and share the cost of professional time and services.

The strategy was not only a pragmatic and economically viable one but it frequently became more effective. Instead of impeding the client’s progress with the one-to-one therapeutic relationship the small group often stimulated significant progress. It eventually became the treatment of choice as many group members improved faster than non-grouip members. Small groups had also been used for the treatment and support of chemically dependent persons. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a small group, has demonstrated great effectiveness in helping alcoholics since the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Research suggests that participation in these groups became the most important component in the treatment process of chemically dependent people.


Groups exist in any contemporary society and they vary from very large to quite small. The small group, however, experienced a new appreciation and expanded utilization during modern times.

During the late ’60s and early ‘70s people discovered the particular contributions, pleasures and the potential power of small groups. These range from psychotheraphy groups to community action and social change groups, personal growth groups to Bible study and prayer groups, corporate team building to supporting groups for those experiencing stress, chemical dependency treatment groups to self-awareness groups etc. Becoming a member of a group or “groupie” initiates a total lifestyle change in most cases.

The small group movement is a result of the recognition of the intrinsic value of people meeting together and developing mutually supportive relationships. Participants also discovered that there was considerable power at work to effect major accomplishment.

The movement has encountered criticism in recent times through sarcastic, humourous put down of “groupies” or a renewed emphasis on either the individual or the larger social units. It continues to flourish though as an effective vehicle for achieving your personal, organizational and societal goals.

How small groups contributed in society

During the space programme in the United States thousands of people: creative scientists to skilled technicians and office secretaries, coordinated by competent managers, played important roles that made significant contributions to the various space projects. The thousands of pieces of work that brought together the desired result were all accomplished by small groups together in a colossal collaborative initiative. Without these multitudes of small groups functioning effectively the moon landing, the photographs of Mars or Saturn or the other space programmes could not have been possible.

This team approach had been transferred to other fields of technology and to various business management approaches as well. The small group approach had also been reflected in team-building workshops, appointment of task forces and an increase in participatory or cooperative management styles.

Small groups tend to link together and form a network and emerge as an enormous impact on social structures. The Civil Rights movement in the 50’s or the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa are excellent examples of small groups joined together by a common concern.

Professional sport teams have consistently demonstrated that it takes more than one great individual for a team to win a championship. A handful of superstars do not necessarily create a world class team. It requires a highly functioning team of athletes working together.

Small group big impact


How small groups can fill a personal need

We need to belong somewhere at any given period of our lives. But not as an undifferentiated mob though as the need exists to belong to a small group with whom we can share our thoughts and feelings. The small group experience can provide part of that need. The settings and purpose of these groups may vary but the dynamics of nearly all small groups are quite similar.


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