Posts Tagged study
By Allen White
While some folks seem to prefer a Shallow Small Group, many small group members joined a group for relationships that lead to spiritual growth. If the conversation continually just skims the surface, some members will go looking for a scuba diving group or at least one that requires hip waders. But, what are these members looking for and how can your group get there?
1. How Deep is Deep?
If your group is looking for depth spiritual growth, I’m not sure that parsing Greek verbs will get you there. I don’t know if a cathartic experience of reciting the details of painful pasts will accomplish that either. The problem with most people seeking a deeper experience is that they don’t actually know what they want.
I recently recommended a curriculum named “Deeper” to a small group leader. She told me that it seemed kind of shallow. Every group is at a different place of maturity. What’s challenging to one group might be child’s play to another. The key is to ask your group to describe as best they can what they expect of the group. When someone throws out “deep,” ask them what they mean by deep. There are many varieties of deep.
2. Speed of the Leader = Speed of the Team
The leader sets the pace for the group. If you want your group to become more transparent, then the leader must become more transparent. If you want the group to personally apply God’s Word, then the leader needs to talk about his or her struggles with making that application.
Sometimes leaders resist opening up, because they’re the leader. They feel the need to come across as more together than the rest of the group. They might even aim for perfect. After all, if the group members knew their flaws, they might leave the group. Actually the reverse is true.
Your group members will identify with your weaknesses and failures more than they will connect with your strengths and successes. Why? Because every one of us has failed. Every person has weaknesses. When my wife and I brought our baby home after months in intensive care, people called me for counseling. I told them, “I’m really not a counselor.” They told me that they wanted to talk to me because I knew what it was like to hurt. That pain transformed my ministry.
As the leader, you set the tone for the openness of the group. If you’re group isn’t getting “deep,” check your own depth meter. It might be time to offer a little more transparency.
3. Confidentiality is Key.
In order for group members to share their thoughts and feelings about life, God’s Word, or anything else, they need to feel safe in the group. What happens in your group must stay in your group if you want your group members to share openly. Gossip is a group killer.
Make confidentiality a key point in your group agreement. When new members join your group, you don’t need to share the entire group agreement, but at least make it a point to talk about the importance of confidentiality. There will be awkwardness anyway, but getting the new folks’ agreement to confidentiality is the first step to everyone feeling safe in the group.
4. Fixing is Forbidden.
When someone shares in the group, the response can’t go to advice giving. They don’t want to be fixed. They want to be heard. When others in the group chime in with advice, the person sharing quickly shuts down. Remember what your mom said about why you have two ears and one mouth?
Probably one of the worst examples of fixing happened in a group I lead in the early 90’s. We were a group of six: one older couple, one younger couple, a middle-aged single guy, and me. During our prayer time at the end of the meeting, the younger couple asked for prayer because they were having trouble getting their one-year-old to go to sleep. She was often staying up until midnight.
The middle-aged single guy began to give them parenting advice. He had never been married. He didn’t have any children. Yet, he was carrying on about how they should put their child to bed. We all sat there frozen. We didn’t know what to say. Finally, after a few minutes he ran out of advice or at least words. It was the dictionary definition of awkward.
In a group meeting a few weeks later, I simply asked everyone to listen to each other’s prayer requests without making comments. Our offender wasn’t offended, and he obliged during prayer time. Fortunately for the group, that never happened again.
5. Acceptance is Oxygen.
Openness requires acceptance. Your group members are asking themselves, “If I share something hard, will the group accept me or will I feel embarrassed?” They aren’t looking for helpful hits or advice. They want understanding. They want acceptance. They want the group to not act weird after they share.
Appropriate responses sound like “Boy, that must have been hard” or “I can’t imagine how painful that would have been.” What they don’t want to hear is “My cousin had the exact same problem…” or “I know exactly how you feel.” Is that even possible?
The group should respond with enough so that the person sharing knows that he’s being heard. But, not so much that he feels interrupted or brushed aside.
If the sharer has a bad experience, he might leave the group. If he is a no show for the next meeting, it’s important to follow up with him. You don’t necessarily have to bring up the topic. Just let him know that he was missed, and you’re looking forward to seeing him next week. If he admits feeling awkward in the group now, diffuse his concern: “Everybody in the group has gone through tough things. No one is judging here. We accept each other just the way we are.”
Whether your group is looking for deeper Bible study, deeper sharing, or deeper dish pizza, it’s important to start with expectations of what the group should be. If your group is the place for your members to decompress from the worries of life, then make it a value to let it all hang out. If your group is longing for deeper spiritual things, then find an appropriate study, set the right tone, and remind the group of James 1:26-27. (If it’s pizza, I recommend Lou Malnati’s).
But, remember, the pace of the group starts with you. Group members typically won’t go any deeper than their leader. Take the plunge yourself, and your group will also go deep.
Here are the Top 10 posts on allenwhite.org for 2011:
By Allen White
When we hear a question like this the fear is that the answer will lie at one of two extremes. Either the group would be a bunch of Bible eggheads who care for God’s Word, but don’t really care much for each other or the group meeting would become a freewheeling discussion that is no more than a pooling of ignorance. There is a balance, but it’s not the same for every group.
1. Why did your group get together in the first place?
People join small groups for various reasons. They want to get to know other believers. They want a better understanding of God’s Word. They want to feel that they belong. They need acceptance. They want encouragement and accountability. The pastor told them it was a good idea. There are many reasons.
While most small groups involve a Bible study, the group is not a class gathered to learn lessons. There are other settings for that. It’s always a good idea to talk to the group about the expectations. How many studies would the group like to do in the course of a year? How many meetings out of the month should focus on a study? How many meetings should focus on fellowship, serving, worship, outreach or something else? The group may be on the same page, but you don’t know until you’ve had the conversation and decided things together.
2. What are your group members’ personalities?
Are your group members task-oriented or relationship-oriented? What are you? When you lead the discussion are you attempting to cover all of the questions or are you interested in what everyone has to say? If you tend to be more task-oriented, then your goal is to complete the lesson. If you’re more relationship-oriented, then you might be tempted to throw the book out of the window.
Rather than resorting to an extreme, reach in the opposite direction. Task-oriented folks should train themselves to encourage personal sharing in the group. Maybe even have a night where folks share their spiritual journey and dispense with the lesson all together. When relationship-oriented folks lead a lesson, they should make sure good progress is made in the lesson, otherwise, they might frustrate some of the group members.
3. Is the curriculum too ambitious?
Some small group studies have as many as 30 questions. This is far too much to attempt to cover in a 45-60 minute group discussion. The group leader should prioritize the questions according to their significance to the group and to the discussion. If the group is 10-12 people who actively participate, you might not need more than five or six good questions for the entire discussion. The goal is to engage your group members, not just to complete a lesson.
4. Be aware of your group environment.
Often God does His best work in the unplanned moments of group life. The leader needs to take the cues from the group members as well as the Holy Spirit to determine when to pause the curriculum and allow a group member to share.
If a group member becomes a little teary, it’s good to pause and take notice: “Dave, I see that things are a little tender right now. Would you like to talk about it?” He may or may not want to unpack what he’s dealing with right then, but he will appreciate your sensitivity. To just continue the lesson without acknowledging what’s going on is essentially telling Dave, “I’m not sure what your problem is, but we’ve got a lesson to finish.”
I was leading a group discussion a few years ago. We were several questions into the study and one of the group members began telling a story. Her story had nothing to do with the question that I had just asked. It had nothing to do with the lesson. We all gave her our attention and listened carefully.
I quietly prayed and asked God for direction, “Lord, should I let her continue or do we need to move on.” The rest of the group seemed to be attentive to her story. I didn’t feel any gut check about redirecting the discussion. She finished. The group responded. Then, we continued with the discussion.
Later, while the group was sharing dessert, the lady’s husband pulled me aside. He said, “I can’t believe she told that story tonight. She hasn’t talked about that for 30 years.” Even though her story was off-topic, after 30 years, she was ready to share. The time was right for her. The rest of the group made the timing right for us as well. Can you imagine the damage that might have been done if we had moved on?
Building relationships and doing Bible study is a balance in any small group. If you’re going to err one way or the other, then err toward building relationships. Don’t dispense with Bible study, but remember that small groups are life on life. It’s not life on curriculum.
By Allen White
Back in the day, good studies were few and far between. Today, the problem is out of so many great studies, which do you choose? Here are a few resources that might help:
1. View Samples Online.
Online Booksellers like Amazon.com or Christianbookdistributors.com sometimes offer samples of study guides and often video content. If they don’t , then the publisher might offer these samples. A quick review of a sample lesson or video might give you a sense of whether the study would work for your group. Often you can print out a sample lesson for your group to review. At a minimum, point them to the website
2. Connect with Your Coach.
Your coach is an experienced small group leader who has led quite a number of studies over the years. Since coaches work with groups that are similar to yours, they will have suggestions based on what other groups have enjoyed. They can also help you in evaluating a study that is outside of the norm for the church
3. Check This Study Review Site.
The Small Group Studies site is a place where small group leaders can find information for the DVD-based studies currently available in the Small Group Library. You will find reviews from other small group leaders along with links to online curriculum samples.
4. Use a Message Discussion Guide.
A Message Discussion Guide is a great way to help people take their weekend into their week. The Discussion Guide gives group members an opportunity to take the truths learned on Sunday morning and apply them to their lives. There is no advance preparation apart from attending the Sunday morning service or viewing it online prior to the group meeting.
5. Follow a Church-wide Series.
At least once a year, the church will align a message series with a small group study. Like the Message Discussion Guide, this offers an opportunity to discuss and apply the teaching from Sunday morning. Usually the small group study will involve a teaching DVD. The DVD allows the opportunity for multiple members of your group to facilitate a lesson, since the pressure of teaching is relieved by the DVD.
These are just a few ways to choose a study. There are many more. The key is to find a study that your entire group is interested in. If there’s a difference opinion, then plan out the next two or three studies to incorporate everyone’s good ideas.
By Allen White
Selecting the right study for your group is important, but how you select the study may be more important. Adult learners learn best in the area of their felt needs. The best study in the world won’t work with an uninterested group.
To guarantee that a study is the right fit for your group, here are a few things to consider:
1. How long has your group been together?
If your group has just start or is less than six months old, chances are that your group members won’t have much of an opinion about what to study next. In fact, taking too much time to decide on the next study might cause your group to falter.
Over the years, I’ve heard the conversation go like this when the leader presents three or four possible studies:
Leader: “Which study looks good to you guys.”
Group: “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one?”
It happens every time. If you send the group to the Christian bookstore or to the internet, well forget it. There are so many choices. They will never decide.
As the leader, go ahead and choose the next study before the current study ends. Introduce the study to the group and ask them if they would like do it next. More than likely, the group will agree and you can move forward with confidence.
If your group is more than six months old, forget everything that I just said. If your group doesn’t have buy-in for the next study, they might be bored, they might be frustrated, or they might leave. Again, midway through the current study, ask the group what they would be interested in studying next. But, this time, don’t bring a study along with you, unless the church is offering a church-wide series. If established group members feel ownership in the group, they will want to have a voice. If they don’t feel ownership, then what in the world are you doing?
Ask the group to share topics of interest or even specific studies they are interested in doing. Have group members research the studies on the internet, view the video content online, and even print out the first lesson for the group to sample. Then, together as a group decide which study to do next.
2. Who’s in your group? New believers, maturing believers or Bible connoisseurs?
Newer believers will need more direction. More mature believers will need less direction, if any. Take the situational leadership model on this. The less knowledgeable the group, then the more input they will need from the leader. The more knowledgeable the group, then they will only need someone to facilitate the decision-making. But, don’t be mistaken—even experienced group members can drop the ball. As the leader, you must follow through in helping the group reach a decision. It won’t decide itself.
Then, there’s a third category – Bible connoisseurs. These are the folks who have consumed material from the best of the best. Any average Joe, poorly produced, old school Bible study will not do. They only want to learn from the pros. Their idea of going deeper is listening to the teacher who will tantalize them with a morsel of Bible trivia that they’ve never come across. Bible connoisseurs are in need of a service project, not “deeper” teaching.
3. Should you go with consensus or the majority?
If you want to keep your group together, go with consensus. If you would like to quickly form a new group, then go with the majority. If 60 percent want one study, but 40 percent want another and you go with the 60 percent, you have effectively split the group. If everyone agrees together on a study, then they will stay. But, what if they can’t agree?
If it’s a 60/40 decision, then you should do one study now and plan to do the other study next. There’s no reason to divide your group over choosing a study. Now, if you have one group member who likes to dictate to everyone else, that’s a whole other deal. You might want to read this post on dealing with difficult people.
4. If the study doesn’t connect, punt.
Sooner or later every group gets into a study that they just don’t like. Rather than persevere through a study that doesn’t connect, recycle it. I mean in the trash. Find another study. Nowhere in the Bible does it command, “Thou shalt complete every lousy study thy group commences.” Find something else.
“But, we spent 12 bucks a pop on the study guides.” Ebay, my friend, ebay.
Years ago, when I knew less about small groups, one group leader nearly faced mutiny. The group had not talked about plans for the summer. But, most of the group had assumed that they would take a break and do some fun things together. On the night of their last lesson in their study, the group leader showed up with a fresh set of brand new study guides under his arm. He wanted the group to get closer to Jesus that summer. From what I heard, the leader almost experienced it that night.
Needless to say, there was no group meeting that summer. There almost wasn’t a group, except that they really liked each other. The group continued on with another leader eventually. And, no, I was not the leader of that group. I just wasn’t a very good coach.
By following these steps, your group can certainly get closer to a study that will meet their needs and keep their interest. By avoiding some pitfalls as you facilitate the decision-making process, you can keep the group intact and keep your head, I mean role as leader.
By Allen White
When I was a kid, summer started when school was out just before Memorial Day and ended just after Labor Day. We had enough time to actually wonder what we would do with ourselves. Sure, there was a week of church camp and a family vacation in there, but there were weeks and weeks of playing outside and watching old reruns, if we were fortunate enough to have a mom who wasn’t hooked on soaps.
Today, summer starts the second week in June and ends about the middle of August. It’s about six to eight weeks, if you’re lucky.
Many groups automatically decide to break for the summer. It’s just what they do. They assume that it’s too hard to get together or that they’re group members are too busy, so why bother gathering as a group? But, when was the last time you rethought your assumptions?
1. Who’s gone for the entire summer anyway?
We go into summer making a few assumptions like “Everybody’s busy traveling, so we might as well not even try to get together as a group.” In a normal year, most families do one big vacation and maybe a few day trips. While everyone in your group probably won’t take vacation on the same week, they also won’t be gone for the entire summer. Before school ends, ask your group about their summer schedules, who knows they might be available after all?
2. Your group may be the spiritual resource for the summer.
In this age of staycations and day trips, people tend to be busier on the weekends than during the week. Few of us could be categorized as the idle rich. Yes, it’s summer, but we’ve got to keep our day jobs. While your group might be headed to the mountains or the beach on the weekends, they’re in town Monday through Friday. They might not be around for church services on Sunday, so your group gathering might be the consistent touch they get during the summer.
3. Your group doesn’t need to meet every week to be spiritual.
If your group meets every week, then meet every other week or meet once a month during the summer. The key is to keep the relational connections up. Ask your group to bring their calendars and see when most of the group will be in town. Even if you can only get together once or twice during the summer, do it. I’ve even seen groups spend vacations together, go on camping trips, and even take a cruise together.
4. Your group doesn’t need to have a Bible study every week to be spiritual.
Have a party and invite prospective members. If you live in the South, grill out. If you live in the rest of the world, have a barbecue. Ask everyone to bring something. Invite the neighbors, but be sure to only invite people that you actually like.
Serve together with a local organization. Is there a neighborhood school with projects, but their funds were cut this year? Is there a yard in your neighborhood that needs work? Is there a single mom or an elderly person who could use a hand? Is a member of your group moving? If you’re part of Brookwood Church, there are many opportunities listed at brookwoodchurch.org/care.
Change it up with your group. While some groups will meet 52 weeks of the year, the frequency of the meetings is not nearly as important as keeping in touch over the summer. You never want to give your group the impression that you only care about them September through May, and not as much during Christmas break.
Oh, and on the being spiritual part, we are spiritual beings, so everything we do is spiritual. Our spirituality involves every part of us, not just worship services and Bible studies.
As your group heads into summer, take time to ask what the group would like to do together. Don’t assume that everyone is busy and that no one wants to get together. If you as a leader need a break, then ask other group members to host a party or head up a service project. You’re not alone.
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.
Here are the Most Read Posts on the Galatians419 blog for April 2011.
By Allen White
What is a small group? In my group, the answer would be either “A group that is small” or “Jesus.” But, the group wouldn’t give those answers. The former answer would come from Jeff and the later from Jamie. (I use these names, because these are their names. We’ll talk about confidentiality another time.)
While anyone can join my group, my group is not just made up on anyone. My group is made up of eleven individuals. Eleven men, each with unique challenges and outstanding gifts. I know them, and they know me. We meet for lunch every Wednesday. We eat at deli’s and sushi bars and Southern barbecue joints. But, we’re also there for each other. The most significant conversations that take place aren’t necessarily around the table at lunch. While we have good Bible-based discussions, we share life in the parking lot afterward and throughout the week via email and cellphone, Facebook and Twitter.
If you treat your group like a class, then you become the teacher, and they receive a grade. Too many tardies or absences and soon they get an “Incomplete.” The difference between a group and a class lies in the center of it. A class is centered on a subject. That class will take place whether you’re there or not. A group is centered on the group members. The connection trumps the content.
Listen to actual group leaders talk about the importance of one on one ministry in groups:
Trouble viewing this clip? Go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN4gdT-6NHs
The strength of a small group is built on the level of touch and interaction among the members. If your small group members don’t like each other or don’t know each other, then get ready to do something else in the near future. But, on the other hand, personal touch is more needed and more significant now than it’s ever been.
1. Encourage members who were absent.
Chuck Swindoll said years ago, “Every person you see is a person in need of encouragement.” In group life, our members need encouragement when we see them and when we don’t see them. But, following up after absent group members isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’m probably the only person that does this, but when someone misses the group, I think: “I must be a terrible leader. Our discussion wasn’t very insightful. As their group leader and their pastor, I let them down. Maybe I should just quit and let someone else take over the group. People are falling away because of my ineptitude.” Okay, I would never use “ineptitude” when I worry, but you can see where this is going.
A very popular book starts with this sentence: “It’s not about you.” What if they missed because someone was sick? What if there was something more interesting on TV? What if they’re not confident talking about their faith in public? What if they forgot? What if they had to work overtime? What if you as the leader don’t actually suck at all? Could it be true?!
Leaders are the people who do the things that other people refuse to do. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is picking up the phone, but it’s an important touch. Even if you just leave a personal voice mail, “Hey, we missed you today. I hope everything is alright.” If your group has a Bible study, then the content is stellar, so it must be something else. Their absence could lead to a prayer request, which could lead to another touch.
2. Follow-up on comments and needs brought up in the meeting.
As leaders, we don’t always realize the impact of a statement in the meeting. As much as we put sharing in the group over the study guide, sometimes we’re thinking about the next question instead of the last comment. Then, it dawns on us later that the group member had just disclosed something significant, and we went on to the next question. That’s okay. Pick up the phone and ask the group member what’s going on. Say, “I was just thinking about something you said in the last meeting. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you about it right then, but I just wanted to see what was going on.” It might be nothing, or it might open the door to personal ministry.
If someone is sick or in the hospital, check in on them. Visit them in the hospital. Take a meal to their house. Call them and see how they’re doing and ask what they might need. If you’re not sure whether you should go or not, go! It’s better to show up where you’re not needed than to miss the opportunity to serve.
3. Be normal.
Unfortunately, some of us require a manual on being normal. The Bible tells us to “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT). Celebrate with your group members on their happy occasions: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, promotions, new houses, new babies – these things all need celebrating. Then, circle around them when they weep.
We all need our group when we experience significant losses in our lives – deaths and unemployment, struggles and setbacks – this is when we need community, not advice. This is when group members need each other – not to throw down advice or quote Romans 8:28 – but to be there. The more that we can make our group relationships, and discipleship for that matter, a normal part of our lives, the better off we’ll be.
4. What touches are significant to your group member?
Sure, it’s easy to send an email blast to the entire group and “Reply to All” with our responses, but is that actually a touch? One on one ministry isn’t built on convenience.
The Bible tells us to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). How do you do that? If your group member loves to email, then email away. If they’d rather talk in person, then get together for a cup of coffee. If they’d rather text, then text. Offline relationships can be enhanced with online communication. It usually doesn’t work as well in the other direction. (Although I do have a good friend who I helped lead to Christ in an online small group back in 1994 on CompuServe.)
A wise person told me once, “People have more ways to communicate today than never before, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” When email inboxes and twitter direct messages overflow with spam, even personal electronic communication can get lost in the mix. Maybe it’s time to go old school with a pen, a card and a stamp. Personal hand-written snail mail definitely stands out these days.
5. Don’t Lead Alone.
As a leader it’s easy to be overcome with a list like this. Most leaders have a job, a family, a life as well as a group. While the group is pretty high on the list, sometimes it’s all that a leader can do just to make the meeting happen each week. The tension is we all need more than discussions with members living disconnected lives. What’s the answer?
I’ve said this before, but while the leader is responsible for the group, the leader isn’t responsible to do everything. The leader’s job is to make sure everything is done, but not to do everything. Ask for a volunteer in the group to follow up on members who are absent, then follow up with the volunteer. If someone in the group says, “I wonder what happened to,” there’s probably a very good reason why they’re thinking about them. Don’t get in the way. Encourage the person who asked to follow up.
John Maxwell is often credited with saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Group life should engage both our heads and our hearts. Group is not something we do. It’s something we are. We can’t say to a group member, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21-25). “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:16, NIV).
Inevitably, we will have one of those days when we stop and think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” We thought we were getting together with other believers to do a nice, neat Bible study. Then, it got messy when people opened up. It got a little complicated when people took off their masks to reveal that they weren’t as together and freshly scrubbed as they usually appeared on Sunday morning. We certainly didn’t sign up for this, but God signed us up. Over the next 30 days, how can you show each of your group members how much you care about them?
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?