By Allen White
People are busy. There is no doubt about it. Often job schedules, travel schedules, family schedules, and numerous other activities will dictate against the group meeting. When the current arrangement works for most of the group, the dilemma is how much to change for a few without losing everybody else in the process.
1. What is the issue?
Something significant has changed in a group member’s schedule, and they are no longer able to make the group meeting on that particular day. There are some things that people just can’t control – a standing meeting at work is now standing on the group meeting time, a major project is demanding overtime, a family situation is conflicting with the group time – these are all legitimate issues. There are also things people can control that might conflict with the group – the member has decided to take a class on the group meeting day, his child’s ball practice is at the same time as group, she’s not a morning person and just can’t get up that early – these are also legitimate issues, but they are preferences.
Is the schedule conflict temporary or permanent? Has their schedule become too crowded to even participate in the group? All of these factors will play into the group’s decision.
2. Who raised the issue?
People do what they choose to do. Even if a lot of things are being thrown at them, they will ultimately do what they want to do. So, the question here is — who is proposing the change?
If the member wants to continue with the group, then the member will ask the group to consider a change. “Guys, I really hate to inconvenience you, but I can’t meet on Tuesday’s for lunch because my boss moved a mandatory weekly meeting to that day and time. Would you consider meeting on another day, so I can participate in the group?” That’s a reasonable request that the group should consider.
If another group member is intervening on the member’s behalf, you must determine if this is what the member in question really wants. Your group could possibly move Heaven and Earth to accommodate the member, when the member was content to just skip the meeting for a while. You certainly don’t want the whole group to change their schedules only to find that the one they changed for can’t make it anyway. This happens more often than you might imagine.
3. What defines the group anyway?
Is the group just the members who show up for the meetings? Is it the group roster? What is the group? Think about it this way: if a member of your family couldn’t eat dinner with the rest of the family, are they no longer a family member? But, if the same family member is estranged from the family, what do we do then?
If the group is the meeting, then commitment is determined by a lack of tardiness and absences. But, isn’t a group more than a meeting? A group is more like a family. There is a commitment to each other, even if there is an issue with the commitment to the meeting.
Every group goes through challenging seasons. And, there are even times when scheduling conflicts can’t be resolved, so a group member has to move on. A group is a living thing. It is constantly changing. New members are added, and sometimes even long-time members move along. This is a normal part of group life. Don’t panic.
But, if your group is more than just a meeting, then continue to invite your group members who can’t attend the meeting to be involved in other aspects of group life. Include them in group service projects, parties and other activities. Keep them on your email list, unless they intentionally choose to join another group. If the member is dealing with a ridiculously busy schedule, even a text or a tweet from other members is significant.
4. What is the group willing to do?
The entire group should consider the situation and the options together. Is the situation beyond the group member’s control? Did the group member prioritize something else over the group meeting? What options does the group have? Then, the entire group should decide together. Don’t put yourself in a leader versus group member decision, and certainly don’t dictate to your group. You are the group leader, not the group owner.
In my group, one member decided that he didn’t want to pay $10 for lunch any more. He was more of a dollar menu kind of guy. He was also a member of another small group in addition to ours. The group decided to wish him well, but didn’t move to Wendy’s.
Another group member kept getting called into meetings in another city on Thursdays, but Wednesday were typically good for him. So, the group chose to move to Wednesdays so he could join us.
Our group meets in restaurants up and down Woodruff Road in Greenville, South Carolina. We will never run out of restaurants even though we change every month. The group decides together where to meet each month. For one season, we had ventured a little too far down the road for some of the guys to get to back to work on time, so now we’re at restaurants closer to their businesses.
Whether your group chooses to change days or locations, the key is for the whole group to make the decision together. It’s a decision that needs to work for everyone.
5. What is the result?
If your group decided move the meeting to accommodate the group member, did it work out? Is he still involved in the group? If so, then you’re group can continue as normal.
If after trying to accommodate the group member, he doesn’t come after several weeks to months, then it’s time for a conversation with the member. This shouldn’t be a guilt-induced, brow beating. But, obviously something else is going on with this group member. What’s going on with him personally? Did something happen in the group? Did something happen outside of the group?
If the group member hasn’t rejoined the group after the change, then I would be reluctant to make another change for this group member. Sometimes the people you make the greatest lengths to reach still never show up. I learned this when I reorganized an entire Bible Institute class for a student who needed to complete the class and needed to participate on a mission trip in order to graduate. After his mission trip, the class reconvened only to discover that the student we tried to accommodate never returned.
Every group leader wants to be the good shepherd who will leave the 99 and go after the one. If you go to extremes, however, you might alienate the rest of the group and find yourself in a small group of two. And, there can be a purpose for a group of two.
You can’t keep every group member for life. That’s just not possible. After the group has done everything they can, if the group member can’t participate, then it might be time to move on.