Group Dynamics 101 – Nobody wants to lead

At this point in your small group’s journey together, you’re as comfortable as family. You’ve shared sensitive information, walked through difficult conversations together, prayed for one another, laughed together, encouraged one another, and worshipped together. The next step in your group’s spiritual development is helping them embody 2 Timothy 2:2 – once we’ve each been discipled, we’re called to go and disciple others.

This doesn’t automatically mean every single person in your group must lead a small group at some point in the future; we are each gifted and called differently.

But it does mean we should encourage our people to intentionally think through what it means to make disciples who make disciples. Whether in a small group setting or through one-on-one relationships, we’re all called to take what we’ve been given in Christ and make it available to others.

And there’s no better time to start that process with your group than right now. You’ve become comfortable as a group and you’ve earned some relational cache as a facilitator. Leverage that for the good for the Kingdom.

First, start intentionally observing your group. Who is a natural host? Who is a natural leader? Who will others follow? Who spearheads service projects? What gifts, talents, and abilities do you see in your group? Encourage those people and give them opportunities to exercise those gifts by passing off small pieces

Second, make sure your leadership is transferrable. Often the folks in our group won’t want to lead because we’ve set the bar so high. That isn’t a bad thing, but make sure your lead in such a way that others gain confidence in their own potential leadership ability. Ask more questions, encourage more reflection, and invite others to participate. Don’t be afraid to teach, but emphasize your role as facilitator-of-material rather than fount-of-all-wisdom; this will ensure your leadership is transferrable.

Third, continue to consistently remind your group of our vision. We don’t gather in small groups to feed ourselves and make ourselves feel better. We are discipled so we can disciple others. Certainly we encourage one another, pray for one another, support one another, celebrate together, and become family. But those relationships are not ends-in-themselves. Rather, they are a means to an end, and that end is making disciples who make disciples.

 

There’s more to be said, but equipping our groups to go out and make disciples is a long process. Confidence won’t come over night. For now, focus on these three things. We’ll begin to build toward actionable goals soon. Until then, continue to love your group and pray for them. That’s the best place to start.

Group Dynamics 101 – Nobody shows up for my group

Now that you’re nearly two months into this new season for your small group, you’ve stopped noticing habits and begun noticing trends. Some of those trends are more easily confronted than others, and we’ve discussed some common ones – including groups that talk too much or too little.

Here’s a trend we haven’t mentioned yet, but one that is potentially crippling:  What if nobody shows up for your group?

It could be as trivial as an individual or couple who attends inconsistently. Or it could be as obvious as entire chunks of your group not showing up. In any event, the lack of attendance will affect your group and we want to ensure faithful consistency. The question is – how!?

First, be confident in what you are asking. Faithful attendance once a week at a small group is not an imposition. Faithfulness in weekly attendance helps train our people for faithfulness in our walk with Christ. We’ll never have the discipline to study Scripture or obey Christ if we don’t have the discipline to attend small group faithfully.

Second, remind your people they’ll get out of small group what they put in. Most people join a small group because they are eager to meet new friends, study the Bible together, and mature in their walk with Christ. That won’t happen unless they commit to attending. Help your people realize their attendance is critical to realizing the goals is important for their own health and maturity.

Third, help give your folks a reason to show up. Don’t rely on weekly small group gatherings alone to build community within your group. Sit together during church. Serve together. Schedule weekend events together. Take one evening a month and, rather than meeting for group, go to dinner or do something fun. Community is a rhythm you live in rather than an event you attend (gosh that was good…somebody tweet that).

Fourth, start rotating leadership responsibilities. Ask others to host or facilitate a part of the discussion. When someone has a leadership role it is harder for them to miss.

Fifth, engage those in your group one-on-one. Be intentional with lunch or coffee and pursue your group members individually. Initiating personal relationships might be just the hook some folks need to prioritize your group.

Sixth, relax. You can’t control everything and you can’t set somebody else’s priorities for them. You can water the tree but you can’t make it grow. You can bait the hook but you can’t make fish bite. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. [Insert well-worn but applicable cliche here]. You get the idea. God is sovereignly allowing you to influence those in your group. If some choose not to show up and you’ve done all you can to make your group hospitable, continue to rejoice in those who are faithful.

Over time, your group will continue to build its rapport. Consistency will come. Be patient and be faithful.

Group Dynamics 101 – Nobody in my group will STOP talking!

Last week we discussed how to engender conversation within a small group when some of group members are a bit hesitant to share. This week we’ll cover the opposite problem, but one that equally common: What happens when the people in your small group can’t stop talking?

The more time your group spends together and the more comfortable you become with one another, the more you’ll find them speaking freely. You’ll find similar interests, common experiences, and share reasons to be outraged (can you believe Spurrier retired MID-SEASON!?).

While this is most assuredly a good thing, it can pose several problems. You may have difficulty transitioning the group from the “arrival-and-connect” time to the study portion of your group. Or you may find your group getting off-topic too frequently to sustain healthy conversation. Or, due to the presence of large personalities, one person may dominate discussion.

Whatever the reason, you may experience difficulty facilitating effective and on-track discussion. What to do?

First, know your frustration is normal. It does not mean you are a poor leader or are not able to facilitate your group well. These are incredibly common issues.

Second, prepare for your discussion with these issues in mind. Ask questions that are more direct and less open-ended. Giving your folks direction in your question will help prevent tangents and rabbit-trails. This will also help you guide discussion and make the main points you want to make.

Third, if you have someone with a particularly large personality who enjoys talking just a bit too much, try sitting immediately next to them. Proximity can give you a better sense of when they’re about to pause, allowing you to jump in and reclaim the conversation.

Fourth, if a conversation completely derails on a side-topic, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it, invite those who are interested to talk more after group, and resume conversation. This has a number of benefits: You affirm your group members in their interests while also affirming the importance of your topic for the evening. And inviting interested folks to stay later – or meet for coffee at a later date – can provide further relational interaction.

Fifth, if an off-topic conversation persists, ask someone to research it further and bring back more information the following week. This allows you to reclaim the conversation for the moment while also empowering others to take ownership in leading.

Finally, and this is the least desirable option, if the distractible behavior continues as a pattern, you may have to speak one-on-one with the person who gets the group off-topic the most. A phone call or a one-on-one meeting is the best approach. Express your love for the person and be grateful they are in your group, but cast vision for the group’s purpose and invite them to partner with you rather than working against you.

 

This is a particularly common problem that arises, and also one of the most difficult. Nobody likes confrontation and it is often easier to allow the group to derail. Remain calm, be confident in the material, and love your group into more focused conversations. It will grow easier each week to guide your group into healthy, transformational conversations.

Group Dynamics 101 – Nobody in my group talks

With each passing week you become more acquainted, more familiar, and more comfortable with the dynamic among the people in your group. You’ve got some history together, a few inside jokes, and are learning more about each other.

The preliminary meet-and-catch-up-about-the-week is always fruitful and enjoyable.

But maybe, once you sit down to begin study, it’s like somebody sent out the signal for radio silence – nobody talks. All the questions in the world don’t make a lick of difference, because nobody is talking. Nobody. What to do!?

First, relax. What feels like an eternity to you may only be six or seven seconds. I once had a mentor promise she would buy me a steak dinner if, during a small group, I asked a question and nobody answered after 60-seconds. Silence is good: People are thinking and processing. You know the answer because you asked the question. Others don’t know what to think – yet. So let them think.

Second, avoid asking open-ended questions. The most common question we ask is, “What do you think of ________.” Unless somebody is certain of the answer, they won’t be the first to hazard a guess. Ask direct questions – “What did Jesus say? To whom was he responding? What is the context?” Once you establish common ground, then you begin to draw answers out of your folks – “Why is Jesus challenging the Pharisees in this way? How does that impact you?”

Third, don’t be afraid to tailor specific questions to specific people. As you learn more about your folks, involve them by asking them direct questions. If you know someone had experience in a certain situation, or comes from a certain background, leverage that in your discussion. “Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which was essentially a small country town. Bob, you grew up in Elgin, right? What was life like in a small town? What was the social fabric of the town like?”

Fourth, prepare somebody else to help you lead discussion. Send them the leader’s guide ahead of time and have them lead, or at least share leadership. This allows you to participate in the conversation without leading. You can model what conversational engagement looks like and spark discussion without wearing the leader’s hat.

 

Above all, don’t panic.

Give people time and space to process; help them processing by asking the right questions and forcing them to think well.

Next week we’ll tackle the opposite problem: What if my group can’t stop talking!?

Group Dynamics 101 – My Group Is Awkward

With the first few weeks of small group under your belt and the ritzy glean of your shiny new toy wearing off, reality might have set in: Leading a small group is tough. In the coming weeks we’ll tackle a few difficulties common to group leadership, starting with the most basic and fundamental: a general sense of awkwardness.

Think about it: More than likely you’ve got a blend of complete strangers and folks who were friends previously. Or you’re an entirely new group with no preexisting relationships. And now you’re spending 1.5 or 2 hours together each week, asking each other to share your deep, dark, and intimate vulnerabilities.

In any event, your first course of action is to take a big deep breath and relax. Helping your group grow comfortable will take time.

Second, persevere. Do your best to ignore anything that feels awkward to you. There is a good chance what you perceive as awkward, others don’t. Or, if others sense awkwardness as well, they’ll take comfort in your confidence and press on.

Third, affirm others and express thankfulness whenever you can. Doing so reminds others your group is a safe space and someplace they’ll want to frequent.

Finally, set an example. Ask questions, listen well, give opportunities for others to contribute, pursue relationships, pray for your group, and be intentional. As you model being a healthy group members, others will follow suit.

In the weeks to come we’ll discuss more specific opportunities: What if no one talks? What if no one shows up? What if someone talks too much?

Until then, simply love your group one email at a time, one meeting at a time, one conversation at a time.

The cart before the horse

By now we’re all familiar with the vision for small groups: Disciples who make disciples, who make disciples who make disciples.

Perhaps familiar is putting it nicely…maybe I’m being redundant. Even excessive?
But that’s okay – when something is this important I don’t think we can be reminded too many times.

Before we spend a few weeks detailing some “best practices” for small group leadership and discipleship, I want to take some time to unpack a fundamental truth. This truth is so fundamental that, if we don’t understand it, all the best practices in the world won’t make a lick of difference.

What kind of obedience?

Paul begins his letter to the Romans by declaring Jesus Christ is our Lord, the Son of God promised to us by the Spirit throughout the Scriptures, the One “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:5-6).

Now you might ask: Wait a minute. Grace brings about the obedience of faith. Does that mean grace expects the obedience of faith? Or grace through faith empowers us to obedience?

Yes.

Grace summons us to obedience

Paul gives Jesus a threefold title:
Jesus – the man
Christ – the prophesied about and long-awaited Messiah
Lord – the creator and sustainer of the universe

This is “through whom” we have received grace, and He is most supremely worthy of our obedience. Saved by Jesus, we owe Him honor and glory through the lives we lead. The moral quality and content of our lives reflects the glory of God when it is submitted to Scripture.

So yes – grace summons us to obedience. Which means when we gather in small group and study God’s Word and disciple one-another, we are living out the obedience to which we are summoned. But it does not end there.

Grace empowers us to obedience

As one scholar has said of this passage, “Obedience of faith is the obedience which characterizes and proceeds from faith.” In other words, not only is obedience the outward display of an inward faith, but so too does obedience proceed from obedience; grace doesn’t only expect obedience from us but makes it possible within us.

Do not look at Jesus Christ as merely another religious teacher who set standards and gave moral exhortations; Jesus Christ is the risen savior who accomplished perfect obedience on our behalf and now through the Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us to live a life of faithful, grace-fueled obedience.

We don’t gather together in community to study God’s Word and disciple one another because we want to check our religious box or show God how holy we are. We gather together and immerse ourselves in God’s Word because these are marks of an obedience that stems from saving faith and is always connected to ongoing faith.

To what end?

Paul finally reminds us this obedience of faith is for the sake of Jesus among both those who are called to belong to Jesus and those who are among the nations. Our obedience edifies the church, glorifies God, and carries His gospel to those who don’t yet know the name of Jesus.

Our obedience is not an end in itself – our obedience points others to Jesus.
We gather and study, discipling in grace and truth and faithfully obeying what we’ve been taught because this is the process God has ordained to spread the Gospel.

As grace summons and empowers us to walk in obedience to Christ, God works through our obedience to summon and empower others.

Why the cart before the horse?

Understanding the gospel and the efficacy of grace is so central because, apart from the proper motivations and the proper goals, we’re spinning our religious wheels and going nowhere. Christians are summoned to the path of righteousness by the grace of the gospel, and are empowered to stay and walk with endurance along the narrow way by the very same grace of the gospel. All the best small group practices, apart from the true life and purpose of small groups, will never facilitate life-giving and transformational discipleship. Never.

Small Groups are here! Now what!?

Football is back, and with it many afternoons of relaxing on the couch while enjoying a good game.
Inevitably, though, I fall into the same trap. I’ll need something – a drink, a snack, a book – and wander away from the TV into the other room. In that short span, 10 steps at the most, something else grabs my attention. Liz asks me a question, Aletheia wants me to pick her up, or I’m listening to the game from the other room. Before I know it I’ve forgotten when I got off the couch in the first place. I stand there, in a mindless stupor in the middle of the room, confused and bewildered.

When it comes to discipleship that very same thing tends to happen. We embark on a journey together for a specific reason – a small group, a personal discipling relationship, an accountability partner, etc. But often something else grabs our attention…what grabs our attention isn’t bad in and of itself, but it does distract from our main purpose. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten our primary calling to make disciples and find ourselves consumed by a task we didn’t set out to accomplish.

As we get underway on another spectacular season of small groups, it is helpful to revisit our primary purpose: We gather for the express purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. We are eager to follow Him more intentionally, and to equip others to follow Him as well.

This always begs the question: What is a disciple!?

I read somebody who once said: The invitation is the definition.

When Jesus tells His first disciples to follow Him, He says, “Come, follow me..and I will make you fishers of men.”

Disciples:
a) Follow Jesus
b) Are transformed by Jesus
c) Are committed to Jesus’ mission

What is Jesus’ mission? Making more disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)!
And not just any kind of disciples, but disciples who make disciples.

2 Timothy 2:2 reminds us, “what what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

And here is where the rubber meets the road for us: Small groups are primarily a place of discipleship. And a disciple is one who makes disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.

We gather for accountability, and fellowship, and friendship.
We gather to experience life together, to support one another.
We gather and know the joy of true community.

BUT: We gather and enjoy these benefits insofar as they equip us to make disciples who make disciples. When these things become ends in themselves, rather than helping us make disciples more effectively, we’ve forgotten our primary purpose.

As we begin another season of small groups, remember our primary purpose is to make disciples who make disciples. Anything else, while good and beneficial, falls short of our primary purpose.