When it comes to our group meetings, we work hard to make sure all of the details are taken care of. The lesson is studied. The house is cleaned. The refreshments are made or bought. The chairs are arranged. There’s a lot of work that goes into a group meeting. But, even though we’ve worked hard to pull the details together, are we really prepared? Listen to Tim Jones, a small group leader, talk about what he learned at our recent retreat with Carl George.
None of us know what exactly will happen at our next group meeting. We don’t know who will show up. We don’t know what condition they will be in. We don’t know who will miss the meeting. But, God knows exactly what’s going to happen. Aligning our purposes to God’s purposes through prayer is the key to a successful group meeting.
1. We become more sensitive to God’s Spirit. As we pray about the meeting, we invite God’s presence into our group. The group meeting is for God to orchestrate rather than for the leader merely to follow an agenda. We become better attuned to the Spirit’s leading during the meeting. When should we linger on a point? When should we move on? God will guide us.
2. We become more sensitive to our group members. I have written other places about what to do with members who dominate and control the group, but there are times when a group member chooses to disclose something right then and there, even when it wasn’t asked for. What do we do? We start by whispering a quick prayer: “God, should I go with this or move on?” He will let us know.
Sometimes when our members need to share, it doesn’t matter what the question or the topic was. It’s our job to be there for them. If this turns into a weekly event, then that is another matter. But, an occasional deviation from the schedule never killed any group. As we give the group member freedom and permission, we give them a priceless gift. They don’t need have their problem solved. They don’t need advice. They just need to be heard. By preparing through prayer, our hearts are in the right place to give them this gift.
3. We become less disappointed with the result. If we’ve worked hard to prepare our house and our lesson for the group meeting, then sure we will be disappointed if just a few, or even nobody, shows up. Why would we continue to work this hard, if no one appreciates it? But, in group life as in the rest of life, the outcomes are up to God.
If only two people come to a group meeting, rather than being disappointed by poor attendance, see it as what God intended for this meeting. What does God want to do with just a few people that might not have happened with the whole group there?
As you prepare for your next group meeting pray for each group member individually. Pray for prospective members who have been invited. Pray for prospective members who haven’t been invited yet. Pray for God’s leading, and then let Him lead.
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?