By Allen White
Group members, like everybody else, are busy people. “But, if they’re really committed, they would do their homework,” you might object. What if they’re really committed and show up to the group most weeks? The question of homework raises several issues about expectations and gifts in your group.
1. What is your goal concerning homework?
What is the homework preparation for? If the center of the group is sharing life together, then the preparation comes from our life experiences of the previous week. If the group is centered on a lesson, then by doing homework, each group member is prepared for the discussion. Statistically, half of the group members will do homework and the other half won’t. As the group leader, it’s important to include everybody in the discussion. Group members who prepared will be quick with their answers. Group members who didn’t prepare will need a little more time to respond.
2. What expectations have been set by the group?
Has the group agreed to homework? Did the group choose the study together and go into it with eyes wide open? Did they understand how much homework would be involved? Or did the group leader spring the study on them?
Group expectations are best decided together as a group. Everyone should agree to what study the group will be discussing as well as any expectations for homework, rotating leadership, bringing refreshments, etc. If the group leader chooses to assign homework without the group’s consent, then don’t be surprised by a lack of participation or a possible mutiny.
3. What benefit is there to doing homework?
If the group has prepared in advance, then we understand that the lesson will be easier to lead. But, what’s in it for the group? Other than avoiding the group leader’s wrath, what do they get out of it?
Group members who spend time studying the topic in God’s Word will definitely benefit from spending time in God’s Word. The principles more than likely will stick with them longer. These are all great things if the entire group agrees to it. Be clear about what is expected: self-study, daily reading, reviewing the discussion questions, attending the Sunday service.
4. What if the group can’t live up to the agreement?
One summer my group decided to study a great Christian book. Our assignment was to read and discuss one chapter per week. We all agreed. Then, reality set in. While everyone attended the group each week, most of us, including the leader, had trouble getting to the chapter every week. Yet, we were committed to completing the study.
Our solution was simple: at least one group member would read the assigned chapter each week, give the group a summary, and lead the discussion. This was great for many reasons. Our guilt was relieved. Everyone led at least twice that Summer, so they read at least two chapters. The group didn’t fall apart. Then, of course, we agreed to never attempt another book study again.
5. Asking for homework reveals a teaching gift.
Carl George has wisely said that if the group leader is assigning homework, then more than likely, the group leader has a teaching gift. Teachers make homework assignments. His suggestion is not to use the teaching gift to assign homework. Instead, the group leader should use his gift to do the homework themselves, and then teach the group along with the group discussion. While you don’t want to turn the small group into a class, the group leader’s teaching gift can certainly enhance the discussion. Of course, the other alternative would be for the group leader to teach a Sunday School class or a Bible Institute type class rather than leading a group.
Expectations can run awry unless they are clear, reasonable and accountable. The key is buy-in from the group. Adult learners are motivated by what interests them. Imposing something on them is highly demotivating. Taking the time to agree together as a group will greatly reduce frustration all of the way around.
By Allen White
By Allen White
After so many questions about dealing with difficult people in groups (Article: When to Refer), I’m tempted to say, “Count your blessings.” But, we do want everyone to get involved in the group discussion. The most significant gift that we can give another person is our full attention and a listening ear. There are several reasons why your group members may not be talking.
1. How large is your group? Quiet people tend to disappear in large groups. The quick solution is to make your group smaller. If your group has more than eight people, then sub-group during the discussion. I do this with my group that meets in a restaurant. When it’s time for the discussion, we divide it down the middle. One half of the table turns toward each other to discuss, and the other half does the same. It works. Everybody can get their word in.
Another way to get quieter folks to talk during the discussion is called “Neighbor Nudging.” It goes like this: “Okay, on this next question, turn to the person next to you and discuss it, then we’ll come back together again.” Every person is at least talking to one other person.
If your small group is beginning to look like a small church, it might be time to think about sub-grouping on a permanent basis. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s not a small group if it has a back row.”
2. Who tends to answer first? If your more talkative members are the first to answer every question, then it’s time to have a conversation with them. For some pointers on dealing with talkative members, check this post: They Keep Talking and They Won’t Shut Up. If someone is dominating the conversation, then your quieter members won’t try to enter in.
If you, as the leader, are the first to answer the questions, stop it. Count to 10. Count to 100. Give your group an opportunity to answer. If you answer every question, the discussion will be inhibited because you have gone from facilitating to teaching. The teaching gift is awesome, if you have a class. Your small group is not a class.
3. Get comfortable with silence. Silence is deafening. We don’t talk about awkward noise. It’s awkward silence. But, in your small group, silence is golden. It allows people to think. Silence also allows reluctant people to finally chime in.
4. Assume that your members didn’t prepare. We used to say that statistically half of group members do homework and half don’t. These days I think far fewer group members prepare for the meeting. Don’t get on your soapbox, just go with it. As the leader, you’ve looked over the questions and thought about the answers. Since your group members are coming in cold, they will need a little time to think about the answers and respond. Allow for a little thinking time. Refer back to #3.
5. Talk to Your Quiet Members Post-Meeting. If they didn’t have anything to say during the meeting, talk to them about the topic after the meeting. Hear what they think. Give them positive feedback about what they have to say. (Don’t lie.) “That’s a really good point. Wow, I wish you would have shared that with the group.” Each touch will build their confidence to participate in the group.
The last thing you want in small group is yet another environment where someone can’t get their word in. The early church met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). The large gathering was informational and inspirational. The smaller gathering was interactive.
How are you going to help your quieter group members this week?