By Allen White Disappointment results from unmet expectations. We expected something other than what we got, but we didn’t get it. For some, this disappointment comes on Christmas morning. For others, disappointment shows up in a relationship. For group members, disappointment might arrive in a much hyped small group or an eagerly awaited study. The key to fending off disappointment and the frustration it brings is to manage expectations. Here are some practical ways to direct the thinking of your group members: 1. Avoid the Blind Men and the Elephant Syndrome. Everyone has an opinion on basically everything. The temperature of the room is too hot or too cold or somewhere in between. The music is too loud, too quiet or just right. If your opinion becomes the Goldilocks standard of “just right,” then everyone else’s thoughts become either Mamma Bear or Papa Bear. “Just right” for you is usually not “just right” for someone else. In the fable of the blind men and the elephant, the men have very different opinions on what an elephant is. The one holding the tail believed an elephant is like a snake. The one touching the elephant’s leg thought it’s like a tree. The one with the tusk thought the elephant was like a plough. The one with the ear thought it was like a basket. And, so goes the fable. When it comes to groups, everyone has different expectations of the group and of the studies they take on. Some want a group for connection. Others want a group for support. Some want deep Bible study. While others want action: outreach, ministry, parties or worship. Some long for that great group they were a part of in another church 10 years ago. While no group can be all things to all people, a conversation about expectations can go a long way in avoiding disappointment with the group. 2. What Do the Group Members Want? The key to creating a group members actually want is to ask the group members what they want to see in a group. Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. This is the beauty of small groups – there is flexibility in each group to uniquely serve its members. What is your church communicating about small groups? The communication sets the expectation. Do your groups offer community built around a Bible study? Are they fellowship groups without a Bible study? Are they Bible study groups first, then everything else later? Are your groups sharing life or just sharing information? When people are invited to form groups, the message from the church sets the tone. Avoid trigger words like “deeper.” The study or group will take you deeper relative to what? This creates a very unmanageable expectation, and you’ll soon find yourself deep in something else. 3. Never Assume. A simple exercise can quickly make the group aware of its expectations. Have each group member write their top 5 expectations on a piece of paper and turn it in anonymously. These expectations can arrange from having a weekly worship time to healthy refreshments to serving the poor. After the leader has collected everyone’s Top 5, compile the list for the next meeting. List each item, but don’t tally the number of votes for each just yet. Give the list to your group members at the next meeting. Have them circle the Top 3 values from the list, then collect their sheets. From this new data, the leader should clearly see the group’s interests. At the next meeting, have a conversation about the results. Then, create your group’s core values around the Top 5 values indicated by all of the group members. The group’s core values should become part of your group agreement. While lesser values may come into play, the group will focus on the Top 5 and then re-evaluate periodically. Decisions made for the group create resentment. Decisions made together create community.
By Allen White Every person in your group has different expectations for your group, whether they realize it or not. Some folks were in a group before and long for the good old days of comfortable koinonia. Others were over-sold on groups: “You’ll make your new best friend.” For whatever reason they joined or what they expect, the key to successful group life is a thoroughly-discussed and well-articulated group agreement. 1. The Key Word is “Agreement.” An effective group agreement has input from the whole group, and a decision for the group ground rules is made together. You are not asking your members to sign a contract that you put together for them. If you impose an agreement on them, you may get compliance, but you won’t necessarily get buy-in from the group. Don’t wonder why no one is honoring an agreement they didn’t help to create. Forming a group agreement doesn’t need to be a lengthy or hectic process. In a relaxed atmosphere, just get everybody’s ideas on the table. Decide on the group’s values together. What’s important to the members? When and where will the group meet? How will the group provide childcare, if they do? What will the group study? How will the studies be chosen? How will the group spend their time together? While there are a number of great templates out there, your group agreement needs to fit your group. Imposing someone else’s agreement on your group just doesn’t cut it. Examples can be helpful, but you’re not looking for a good document, you’re aiming for a great group. 2. Everyone Knows What to Expect. A group agreement puts all of the members on a level playing field. They know what’s acceptable and what’s out of bounds. From basic, but important, items like when the meeting with start and end, the group will know what to count on. If members need to get back to work or put kids to bed on a school night, they will know when it’s acceptable to leave. More importantly, the group agreement insures things like confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group. Broken confidences and gossip are group killers. If the group has a party, what will they be drinking or not drinking? If your group doesn’t know if any of its members are in recovery, that’s an important conversation to have. How will the group meeting run? While the meeting doesn’t have to be the same every week, the members do need to know what to expect. My group meets in a restaurant for lunch. If we order from a menu, then we order, discuss the lesson, eat when the food comes, and then pray together. If it’s more of a “fast food” place, then we eat first and ask questions later. 3. Everyone Knows What is Expected of Them. Some people are reluctant to join groups because they fear being asked to do something they just aren’t comfortable with. Will they have to pray aloud? Will they have to read aloud? What if they don’t read very well? The group agreement helps them understand if these things are voluntary or mandatory. If a member has to miss the group, what is his responsibility to the group? Should he call or not worry about it? If it’s important that the member informs the group, then put that in your agreement. As the leader, you shouldn’t do everything for your group. It’s just not healthy, and it robs others of opportunities to serve in ministry. If your group intends to pass around the responsibilities for leading the discussion, hosting the group, bringing refreshments, lead worship, follow up on prayer requests, and whatever else you can give away, your agreement should include the expectation that every member would serve in some way. Again, what are the values of your group? What is expected of each member? Decide together and let everyone know up front in the agreement. 4. Group Agreements Must Be Reviewed. Your group agreement will not stand the test of time. Circumstances change. Groups change. While you would always include things like confidentiality and shared responsibility, your meeting day, place, time, study and so forth will change over time. Group agreements should be reviewed at least once per year to make sure that it’s still working for everybody. 5. Group Agreements Help When New Members Join. It’s important to review key items in your group agreement when new members join your group. You don’t have to recite the entire agreement, but important things like confidentiality, child care details, and so on should be shared with new members. This doesn’t have to be formal. “Just to let you know, our group is like Las Vegas. Whatever is said here stays here” or “We’re going to order our food, then get into our discussion. When the food arrives, expect a little silence, then we’ll close with prayer needs.” 6. Agree on the Agreement. While it’s good to have your group agreement written down somewhere, you don’t need to have it notarized or have your attorney present. I have seen some groups give their agreement a simple thumbs up. I’ve seen others sign it like the Declaration of Independence. Do whatever works for your group. Some folks are resistant to words like “covenant,” so “group agreement” or “ground rules” would work better for most. I recently bought the board game “Sorry” for my family. We read all of the rules, but to limit frustration with my young children, we modified a few of the rules. They don’t need the exact number to move their pawn home. That works for us now. Later on, we might need to up the difficulty of the game. You see there are the official rules, and then there are the house rules. Your group agreement should be the house rules for your group. The rules may change over time, but the most important thing is that the rules work for the whole group right now.
By Allen White A couple of guys in our small group in California would wonder out to the sidewalk after the meeting each week to smoke. They would just hang around in front of our house and talk. The other guys in the group were a little jealous of their fellowship and considered taking up the habit themselves. Someone from another group heard about our smoking members. Then, that person passed the news to a friend of theirs. The third person in the chain approached me at church one day, “I heard that you’ve got group members who smoke in front of your house every week. That must be embarrassing for a pastor.” I replied, “Yes, it’s terrible. I wish they wouldn’t smoke. But, I’ve heard that some groups are full of gossips.” Okay, I actually didn’t say that, but I wish I had. Gossip is a small group killer. There is nothing more fatal to a small group than gossip. It is the deadliest sin in group life. The Bible teaches that “a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28) and “a gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). The Apostle Paul includes gossip on the sin lists in Romans 1 and 2 Corinthians 12 along with murder, envy, strife, jealousy, rage and deceit. Gossip is serious business. So, what do you do when it shows up in your group? 1. Be Proactive. Even though your group is filled with wonderful people, the first place to deal with gossip is on the first day of the group. As your group talks about their group values, you should formulate a group agreement. These are simply the things the entire group agrees to. This can include when and where the group meets, the frequency of meetings, childcare, etc. A key value for your group is confidentiality. What is said in the group needs to stay in the group. Period. Your group should be declared “Las Vegas.” Nothing in the group – comment, prayer request, joke or off-the-cuff remark – should be repeated outside of the group. Sometimes the rules get blurry. Let’s say a group member requests prayer for a mutual friend, let’s call her Jane, who is not in the group. Jane is having some tests for a serious health problem. One day you bump into Jane’s husband and tell him that you are praying for Jane and her health issues. The problem is that Jane hasn’t said anything to her husband. She was afraid that the news would affect his heart condition, so she didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily. (This is a fictitious story. I am not telling tales out of school here). Now, you get the picture. Gossip, as benign as it might seem, is a missile that will sink the whole ship. Who would ever share another prayer request or personal issue in front of someone they feel that they can’t trust? If the group lacks trust, relationships are broken down. There is no more group. Confidentiality is the foundation of group life. Creating a small group agreement and reviewing it periodically will help to insure trust in the group. 2. Even Gossip in the Group About Others is Dangerous. Gossip shuts down trust. Even if the gossip is about someone outside of the group, it certainly makes the group wonder what this person says about them behind their backs. Gossip of any kind will diminish trust in the group. If the group lacks trust, then the members will not open up. The leader should redirect the gossiping member with “Let’s keep our discussion to those present in the group.” Then, take the member aside and personally talk to them about gossiping and the harm it can bring to a group. What is gossip? Well, the rule of thumb is that if the person you are talking to is not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s gossip. 3. Act Quickly. If something about your group is told outside of the group, deal with it as soon as you are aware of an incident of gossip. Don’t interview every member of the group. The offended person should go directly to the offender. As Ross Perot once said, “If you see a snake, kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” As Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). If the offended person isn’t willing, then you as the group leader must step in. The first step is to pray and ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to prepare the way and to work on the offender in advance. If you’re eager to confront the offender, then you should probably pray some more. If you’re reluctant to confront, then you’re probably in the right place. Unless you heard the offender tell the gossip yourself, you must give them the benefit of the doubt. Tell them what was said outside of the group, and let them know the harm that it caused. Hopefully, they will admit their fault before you have to ask them directly. If they don’t own it, then you have to ask: “Do you know who told this outside of the group?” If they admit to the gossip, then they should be given an opportunity to confess to the group. If they don’t admit it, then you must take the next step and bring a person with you who either heard the gossip or is somehow involved in the incident (Matthew 18:16). If the person did gossip, but won’t admit to it, more than likely, he will stop coming to the group on his own. Most people are not so callus as to offend the group, lie about it, and then continue participating in the group. But, don’t be surprised. 4. Bring the Issue Before the Group. If the person is repentant, then give him an opportunity to confess to the group and seek their forgiveness. The best scenario is that the group will forgive and everyone will be reconciled. This is ideal. But, it may take time for the group to trust the person again. Reconciliation isn’t necessarily automatic with forgiveness. Over time, as the group bears with one another, they will be able to trust each other again. If the person won’t admit their fault, then the gossip must be addressed in the group in the person’s presence. This shouldn’t be presented in an accusatory way, but simply stated: “Someone in the group broke the group’s confidentiality by saying _______ outside of the group. What do you know about this? How did this affect the group?” The offender might come to repentance in the meeting. 5. As a Last Resort… If the group is certain about who committed the offense, then the last resort is to ask the offender to leave the group. Jesus taught us, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). In this case the “church” is the group. The question is how should believers treat “pagans and tax collectors”? As with anyone who is not in relationship with God, believers should love them, even if they’re an enemy (Matthew 5:44) and challenge them with the need for repentance. When the person repents, then the process of reconciliation should begin. Few other issues are as harmful as gossip in a small group. But, if the leader deals with the issue quickly, chances are the group will remain strong. If the issue is not dealt with, it won’t go away. In fact, it will become a greater problem. Gossip is not just a bad habit, it is a prideful sin. The gossip is pleased to divulge information that other people don’t have. It makes them feel powerful. As a group leader, the issue becomes how to serve a person who needs gossip to make them feel significant. What are they lacking? What are they misunderstanding about their relationship with Christ?