This is a complex time filled with believers and non-believers. Some believe that COVID-19 is a deadly pandemic and that every precaution must be taken. Others believe that the Coronavirus is completely made up to control people. There are others who venture out with precautions. There are others who resent precautions. As one pastor said recently, “You just described my whole church.” But, what happens when your groups disagree over whether to meet in-person or online?
Being Right Misses the Point
People have already decided what they believe about COVID, the presidential election, global warming, etc. Positions have been taken. No amount of arguing, tweeting, posting, or unfriending will convince them otherwise. Debate will not make anyone feel better about meeting or not meeting as a group.
As stated earlier, opinions range across an entire spectrum. Some choose to err on the side of caution because of a family member who is elderly or who has a compromised immune system. Others are just over it. Coronavirus has carried on for over eight months. Typically, people don’t stick with anything that long!
This division is not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. It comes down to the best way to accommodate group members over an issue that is important to them. Coronavirus aside, how can the group love one another and thus prove they are Christ’s disciples?
What Can the Group Agree on?
For the sake of discussion, let’s consider a less emotionally-charged issue. Instead of meeting or not meeting because of COVID, let’s change the debate. Let’s say that part of the group would like to continue meeting on Tuesday night, but another part of the group would like to change to Thursday night. The Tuesday members have their reasons. The Thursday members have their reasons. Would the Tuesday members possibly move to Thursday? Why can’t the Thursday members meet on Tuesday? Is there another night of the week that’s open for everyone?
If the heart of the group is to stay together, they must arrive at some kind of compromise. Alternating group meetings between Tuesdays and Thursdays would be confusing and would effectively split the group. As with any group dilemma, the group needs to revisit their Group Agreement. If the current Group Agreement is no longer working for the group, then they need to do their best to make adjustments in order to continue. If they cannot make adjustments, then the group will probably disband. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What If the Group Can’t Reach Consensus?
The question of a group being split over COVID actually came up in an online leader training I did last week with Grace Point Church in Topeka, Kansas. (Thanks Josh Cooper for inviting me!) One of the leaders was facing this exactly dilemma in her group.
My initial response was to tell the group leader to choose the members she liked and go with them. While that brought a laugh, it wasn’t really a solution. But, I was only half joking.
The first thing leaders must consider is what they are comfortable doing. If the group made an accommodation to a different night or a different format for the sake on an insistent member, I’ve often found that even after the group makes the change, the member doesn’t show up. Leaders should do what they’re comfortable doing. If they like meeting on Tuesday night, then meet on Tuesday night. If leaders would prefer to meet online over the Winter instead of in-person, then meet online and keep those who will meet with you. But, what about those on the other side of the issue?
If your group is divided 60/40, then you have effectively split the group. Those who don’t want to continue based on the group’s decision should form their own group and choose the relative leader in the group. Before the group makes this move, the leader should discuss this with his or her coach or small group pastor. You don’t want to elevate someone without clearing the name with the church first. Once the new leader is approved, then the new group can start.
This could be a temporary solution until the situation changes, and the group can reunite. Or, the group could intentionally start another new group. The new in-person group and the new online group that have formed will have room for new members. People who’ve been watching the online worship service could connect with the online small group. Look at this as an opportunity and not a problem!
Now, notice what I didn’t say. I did not say to send the three or four members who differ from the rest of the group to the small group pastor so they can be assigned to a new group. This is not the small group pastor’s problem, so don’t make it your problem. Let the group work out their differences with the guidance of their coach. Stay out of the matchmaking business.
This is a complicated time. Opinions vary widely. But, as at any other time, group issues should be solved by the group. If they need help, then their coach can guide them. Avoid the temptation to fix this for the group. They can work it out. And, above all else, “stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).