By Allen White When your group members ask for accountability, there are right ways and wrong ways to offer it. Some accountability comes across as coaching and encouraging. Other efforts at accountability seem condescending and defeating. Here are some things to consider in setting up accountability with others: 1. How does accountability work? Accountability fails when it’s conducted by an accountant. “Your goal was to exercise four times last week, but you only exercised two times. Now, you need to repent and pledge to do better next week.” Yikes! Sounds like they’ll be skipping the next accountability meeting too. The Bible tells us that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). If the purpose of accountability is to confront the person with their failures, it’s a failure. The nature of accountability can’t be merely a ledger recording wins and losses. Accountability works when it’s more like coaching and less score keeping. If the member only got two workouts in this week, then the response should be: “Good, you got two in. What kept you from doing all four? How did you feel after your workouts? How did you feel when you skipped your workout? How can I help you this next week?” What are the reasons behind the success or failure? What motivates them? What demotivates them? Everybody is motivated by different things. Accountability partners need to know that you have their best interest at heart. Your prayers are significant. Your short voice mail messages or texts or tweets can encourage them daily. But, encouragement should be given in appropriate doses otherwise it can seem like a backhanded rebuke. 2. Who should provide accountability? While as the group leader, you should have an accountability partner, especially if you are advocating accountability. But, the group leader shouldn’t have more than a couple accountability relationships himself. “But, the group has never done this. What if they don’t do it right?” Okay, Moses, read Exodus 18 and take a breath. The group leader can coach the group on providing and receiving accountability. But, there is no way to maintain an accountability relationship with every person in your group, and it’s not healthy either. Ideally, group members should be matched with someone who has a measure of victory in the area they are holding another accountable for. This just makes sense. Who do you want coaching you on weight loss – the guy who lost 80 pounds in the last year or the guy who would like to? You want the guy who has succeeded. If someone wants to get up at 5:30 every morning to start a quiet time, they need someone who is up at that hour to give them a wakeup call for a while. (By the way, 5:30 pm is just as spiritual as 5:30 am – just sayin’). Your group might not even want to use the term “accountability partner.” For several years, my group had “prayer partners.” Two of us got together every other week to pray for each other. There was some checking in involved in the process, but it didn’t feel like a pop quiz. Done the right way, accountability can be a good tool to strengthen your group and deepen their relationships with each other and with God. As long as you keep the “Why” ahead of the “What,” your group could be well served with this. Related Article: How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable? Recommended Reading: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).
By Allen White Okay, let’s rethink the question a little bit, then we can tackle the issue. Forced accountability is less like having a spiritual coach and more like having a probation officer. Since most group members aren’t working hard to avoid incarceration, making group members accountable is a failed enterprise. The title of that book would be “How to Lose Friends and Frustrate People.” I don’t think that’s what you have in mind. Here are some things to consider in developing group member accountability: 1. Why do you feel your group members need accountability? Either accountability works well for you or you’ve heard that it does. Whether you’re starting a new habit or forsaking a bad habit, the help and encouragement of another believer can be a great support and motivator. If your group members are asking for accountability, that is a beautiful thing. If you think your group members need accountability that they’re not currently seeking, well, that’s a whole other deal. Proceed with caution, unless you are exercising your gift of martyrdom on this one. Think about what led you to see accountability was a good thing for you. More than likely, this was a process for you. It wasn’t a gut reaction. You thought about how accountability could help you. You thought about what would work for you. You thought about who would coach you. It took a little time. Your group members probably aren’t there yet. Give them insights into how accountability has helped you, before you pop the question. Just casually bring up accountability during the group meeting. You might even start with a praise during the group’s worship or prayer time, “I am thankful for my accountability partner. This relationship has really helped me maintain (a consistent quiet time or kept me in the gym or whatever it was.)” You have to show them on the value of accountability. “But, this will be good for them. We need to just get started.” Imposing accountability on unwilling group members will backfire in a big way. It will be about as popular as the brussel sprouts you serve instead of brownies at your next meeting. Your group members want to grow spiritually. You have found a tool that will help them get there. Now, you have to give them the “Why?” and not just impose the “What.” 2. What accountability is your group open to? Every believer is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, no two believers walk identical paths. While Jesus is the only way to Heaven, each person’s background, wounds, victories, personality, gifts and passions are very different. What works for one will not necessarily work as well for everyone else. One size does not fit all. The only accountability that works is the accountability that your group members actually want. They may very well want to forsake a bad habit or develop a good one. Accountability may be the perfect tool to get them there. But, only if they ask for it. Once your group members have bought into the concept of accountability, there is nothing wrong with asking the group members what they would like accountability for. 3. What accountability has the group agreed to? Your group has already agreed to some things that require accountability. Your small group agreement outlines each member’s responsibility to the group. If your agreement puts responsibility on your members to let the group know when they can’t make a meeting, then they have consented to accountability in that area. The same with the other areas of agreement: confidentiality, active listening, etc. If someone violates something in the group agreement, then you should definitely ask them about why they broke one of the ground rules for the group. Tomorrow’s Post: Accountability that Works Recommended Reading: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).
Writer’s Note: This one is from the archives, but it still has a good application. Makes me smile to remember all of my great friends at New Life Christian Center, Turlock, CA. Those were some good times.
“How do you track that?” I don’t believe that question was asked about converts at Pentecost. But, it’s the question that I get from pastors of small groups who need to justify their salary or otherwise guarantee job security. After all, that is what this is all about, right? But, what if our need to track, control and direct keeps us from a wave of ministry that resulted in dramatic kingdom proportions?
I know all of the evangelical adages. “Don’t we count our money? Are people less significant than cash?” After all, the Shepherd did count his sheep only to discover that one had gone astray. If the counting hadn’t taken place, then the sheep might have risked deadly peril. Matthew 18 makes it very clear that one individual sheep matters to God.
At the risk of taking the analogy of the Shepherd too far, let me challenge you on this: the Shepherd counted his sheep, but the shepherd didn’t limit the multiplication of his sheep because he might overwhelm the accounting system. My thought is that if the shepherd had an overabundance of sheep to the point where the lily white mass stretched as far as his eye could see, his joy over a prolific flock would far overshadow his compulsion for a spreadsheet. When Acts 2:41 records that about 3,000 newly baptized, dripping wet believers were added to the church, I don’t think they were rounding up from 2,857.
We say that people are not statistics, then we quote the statistics about how many people we’re runnin’ and how many people we’re keepin’. Don’t get me wrong. We should know whether our service is effective in building the Kingdom. If we’re ineffective, then certainly no number will save us. If we are effective, then no number will do it justice.
I must admit that I am enamored by some numbers myself. I am amazed that less than a year ago only 30 percent of our adults were in small groups, but since then about 40 percent of our adults have hosted groups in their homes. That’s pretty amazing going from 30% sitting to 40% leading! But, here’s where this breaks down for most folks. I don’t know how many people are in each group. In some cases, I don’t know the person who is hosting the group personally. It’s gotten out of control—well, out of my control, anyway.
What I have learned is that God’s people are capable of much more than I have given them credit for. The people in the pews can lead a DVD based small group study and refrain from heresy and criticism of the pastoral staff. They’re too nervous about getting through the lesson to even think of interjecting theological error. God’s people filled with God’s Spirit interacting with God’s Word leads to more great things than bad.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned. A general contractor, a retired school superintendent, a multi-level marketer, and a substance abuse counselor together can do a better job of leading our small groups than I can alone. I don’t need to train a multiplicity of new hosts. These four do the training. I don’t need to review applications and interview prospective leaders. These four along with their coaches know every one of them. They know what’s going on in their lives and what’s going on in their groups. That’s better than I ever did sitting them all in neat rows and lecturing them for weeks.
We have this need to know numbers. Part of me is curious about that too. But, does a number tell us if our church is healthy? Does a number tell us if a group is growing? Does a number tell us if individual believers are being conformed to the image of Christ? Are these numbers good stewardship or just bragging rights?
How many do we have in small groups? Well, more than I care to count.
Unfortunately, this is not automatic for groups. It takes some work to get there. Here are a few things to consider in helping your group reach a closer, more open place:
1.How often is your group meeting? Groups that meet more frequently tend to gel more quickly, if they are willing. But, it’s not just the Bible study that helps this. How often do you connect with each other? The early church connected daily (Acts 2:46). That may not seem possible in this day and age. Actually, it’s more possible. Social media like Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect with people not just daily, but even hourly. Instant messages, text messages, and cell phones provide avenues for us to connect. What would it mean to you to have someone leave a message on your cell phone just to say that they are thinking about you and praying for you? These connections help groups grow closer.
2.What happens outside of the group affects what happens in the group. This actually cuts both ways. If your group is made up of couples, close friends (prior to the group), or relatives, the relationships they bring into the group will affect the closeness of your group. If couples are close and open with each other, then they will be open in the group. If couples aren’t as close or open at home, but try to be open in the group, you’ll see plenty of fireworks or tears as a result. It might be wise to have couples reflect on questions together rather than openly share in the group at first.
On the other hand, if your group only meets together for a weekly Bible study, you are also missing out on the opportunity to gel. If your group socializes or serves together on occasion, this will help to deepen the relationships in the group. Even prayer partners getting together outside of the group meeting will help the group gel.
3.The speed of the leader, the speed of the team. This is a saying I picked up for Willow Creek Community Church where Bill Hybels pastors. As the leader, your group will be as open as you are. If you freely share your own hurts, habits and hang-ups, so will the group. If you are more reserved as the leader, your group will also be more reserved as a whole. Rick Warren puts it well, when he says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” As you open up as the leader, your group will also open up and be drawn closer together.
4.Does your group want support and accountability? It’s great to provide an opportunity for these things, but it’s not so great when it’s imposed on you. In fact, if your group members don’t willfully volunteer for accountability, it can easily turn into legalism and defeat. I would recommend offering the idea of having prayer partners for a short period of time. A pair of group members (same gender of course) would meet together a couple of times a month outside of the group meeting. They could meet in-person, by phone, or even online to pray for each other and encourage each other. If the group members like it, then they will continue. If not, it was just a short-term commitment. Once the commitment is over, they are no longer obligated to continue.
5.Some groups never gel, and that’s okay. On the surface, everyone may seem to get along very well. But, once people get to know each other a little better, some may wish that they hadn’t. That’s okay. Some personalities just rub each other the wrong way. If your group has been meeting for a while and has tried all of the above, but still doesn’t seem to gel, it might be time to be honest with yourself and your group: it’s time to re-group. Not every group works. Whether you decide to break for a season, then form another group later on or just encourage the group to try other groups, it’s not right for an ill fitting group to be forced to continue.
My hope for you and your group is that you will grow to become a close-knit group that challenges and encourages each other. It’s not automatic, but it is worthwhile. As your group continues to get together and get involved in each others’ lives, you will begin to gel.