By Allen White In my travels I’ve learned to automate certain things. By automate, I mean repeating the same patterns, not in an OCD fashion, but just so I don’t have to think about things over and over. For instance, I always park on the same level of the same parking garage. When I arrive home after several days on the road, I don’t have to think about where I parked. I parked in the same place I always park. I do the same with the rental car companies. For years, I’ve used Avis. Why Avis? Someone way back when booked a couple of cars with Avis for me, so I just stuck with it for the same reasons as above. I never have to think about which rental car company I have. I’ve also learned with Avis to use “Preferred” so I can skip the counter, go directly to the garage, see my name up in lights, find my car and get out of dodge. No lines. No conversations. I’m on my way. The other day I received a new card from Avis in the mail. I had qualified for “Avis First.” I had no idea what Avis First even was. While airlines often change on trips, Avis is a constant. It’s automated. Now, for my “loyalty,” I received a new status. This qualifies me for free upgrades, but I’m guessing not free drinks, since they are a rental car company…and I don’t drink. My next step with Avis First was activating my new status online. I went to the website, typed in my information, and received the following message:
“We’re sorry. You may not qualify for Avis First. Please contact customer service, blah, blah, blah.”
I felt almost special. Here this surprise came out of the blue only for me to discover this might have been a fluke. I would have happily stayed “Preferred.” I didn’t need to be “First.” But, Avis led me on. Avis promised me something, then quickly took it back. Then, I began to wonder how I’ve ever done that to other people myself. How many times have I asked people to sign up for something, then not followed up with them? Did they feel “almost special”? The pastor invited them to host a group or teach a class or lead in some way. They said, “Yes,” then they never heard from anybody. How many times on a whim had I tossed out an offer that I wasn’t prepared to follow through on? Now, from the size of the churches I’ve worked with, I could probably make some excuse about the sheer numbers of responses. But, to the person who took me up on the invitation, the only response they were thinking about was theirs. If I gave them a bad experience, how likely would they be to stick their necks out again? An invitation without a next step in place is a disaster. If you invite someone to lead a small group, what’s the next step? Often I’ve offered the next step immediately after a weekend service rather than asking them to come back during the week. If people are open to joining a group, do we make them wait for us to process a card or send them to a website? What if the card gets lost or if I get lazy, do they feel “almost special”? What did it take for them to say “yes,” and will I ever get that “yes” from them again? A good idea without a next step is a bad idea. So is a good idea with two or three or five next steps. What does this look like?
Step 1: If you’d like to join us, please fill out a card. Step 2: If you’re patient, we will reply to your card at some point after we’ve entered it into the database and figured out what we’re going to do for you. Step 3: Now that you’ve patiently waited, we are going to invite you to a meeting to come back to, so we can give you more information about what you’re interested in. Step 4: Thanks for coming to the meeting, if you’re really serious about this, we’d like you to join us for training so you’ll be qualified to do what you want to do. We’ll send you some information on when the next training is coming up. Step 5: Thanks for joining us for training. You are now qualified, provided that your a member of the church, complete an application, and set up a time to be interviewed. Step 6: Thanks for submitting your application, we will contact you about a time for your interview. Step 7: Welcome to your interview. Let’s take some time to get to know each other and see where you can serve in our church (or can’t).
None of these steps are bad, but every additional step increases your margin for error. Either someone on your team will drop the ball by not following up with the person, not getting an email on time, or is just too busy to pick up the phone, or the person who was interested lacks the gift of perseverance and gave up somewhere around Step 3. The next step should be both clear, accessible and somewhat automated. If you want to gather some friends and do the small group study, give us 10 minutes after the service, and we’ll give you enough to be dangerous and an experienced leader to help you. No cards. No waiting. No endless communication loop. Briefing, boom, you’re good to go. Avis finally got their act together. After I emailed customer service, I received a reply the following day saying I was indeed special and qualified for Avis First. Granted, I wanted to feel special sooner via their website, but now I am special nonetheless. In a couple of hours, I will pick up my first special car with Avis First. If “special” means Crown Victoria, I’m not going to feel so special…unless it’s equipped with lights and siren.
By Allen White Lateness is a bad habit. While there are occasions when most of us will run late once in a while, it is an exception. When you think about your group, the same people are consistently late. Once in a while, they may come early because they forgot to change their clock or something, but for the most part, they are consistently late. It’s a bad habit. If you want to reinforce their bad habit, then hold off on starting the meeting until everyone has arrived. The latecomers will understand that the whole group will wait for them, so there’s no need to be on time. If you want the latecomers to think about changing their ways, then start the meeting on time. When they walk in and the meeting is already started, they will say, “Oh excuse me, I’m sorry for being late.” That little bit of awkwardness or embarrassment just might motivate them into being on-time next week. Here’s the flip side: if you wait for people who are always running late, what are you saying to the group members who show up on time? By waiting for latecomers, you are dishonoring the people who cared enough to show up on time. My rule of thumb is this: respect those who are on-time by starting the meeting. Embarrass the latecomers. (I’m a Kansan. I can’t help it.) But, test me on this. If your group starts at 6:30 and you announce at 6:30 that you are no longer going to wait for the late people, but that you are going to start on time from now on, listen for the cheer.
Now that your group is a few weeks into the study, you’ve discovered that there are some people that have a lot to say. They answer every question. They dominate the discussion. You secretly hope that they won’t come back. But, the fear is that the rest of the group might leave. What do you do?
This is a tough one, because you want people to open up and share. Unfortunately, some people aren’t self-aware enough to realize that no one else is talking and that the group is not all about them. I know this guy. I’ve been this guy. Here’s how to deal with me, I mean, him.
1. Take a deep breath. This isn’t going to be the showdown at the O.K. Corral. Jesus is with you. He wants them to shut up too.
2. Drop a hint. After two or three questions, if your big talker keeps chiming in and dominating the discussion, say something like this: “Okay, some of you have been kind of quiet so far, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet.” In small group language, this means “shut up, blabbermouth,” but we are too kind and relational to actually say that. For most big talkers, this should work.
3. Don’t look them in the eye. When you ask the next question, intentionally avoid eye contact with your big talker. Look at other people. Pray that they will open their mouths. By avoiding eye contact, you discourage the big talker from speaking up.
4. If they still don’t get it: Next time, sit by the big talker. Intentionally place yourself right next to the person. First of all, this avoids direct eye contact, because you can’t really do that without the risk of a neck injury. Secondly, if they haven’t gotten the hint by now, when you ask the question and you see them begin to answer, tap them on the leg or gently elbow them. This will cause them to pause long enough to allow someone else to answer.
5. The Nuclear Option. If after using these tactics for a couple of meetings and the big talker still hasn’t changed, it’s time to have “the talk.” It goes something like this: “Have you noticed that some of the folks in our group don’t talk very much? (“Yes, they must not be as intelligent as I am.”)Would you help me draw some of those folks into the conversation? (“Sure.”) Here’s what I need. Let’s wait until a couple of our quieter folks have shared with the group before you jump in. You have some great things to say, but we need to make sure that everyone gets their word in.
Here is what I suspect about your big talker. He or she probably has a leadership gift, a teaching gift or a neurotic personality (I’m not joking). If she is a leader, then with the right coaching, she could probably lead her own group one day. She just needs to be directed toward the right behavior in group. If he has the gift of teaching, then a BrookwoodU class or another more formal setting would probably better suit his gift. Small group leaders with a teaching gift turn their group into a Sunday school class, even if they don’t meet on Sunday.
If the person constantly talks about himself and completely dominates the discussion, even after you’ve exercised the Nuclear Option, then you might have a big problem on your hands. “The term ‘neurotic disorder’ is used to loosely describe a range of conditions that involve an inability to adapt to the surrounding environment’” (Source: Lifescript.com) Now that you’ve quickly diagnosed half of your group and your mother-in-law, don’t move too quickly on this. The Care and Support Department at Brookwood Church is a great resource to get advice on how to help a neurotic personality. Connect with our Care Department and see what your next step should be. Chances are, they might already know your big talker.
While small groups are a place to share and to support each other, leaders must be conscious of how the behavior of one member can affect the entire group. Work with your big talkers. Your small group will thank you.