By Chris McRae, BCI Discipleship Team Leader
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to go about making a small group great. I hope to be sharing more of those with you in coming weeks. Some of the often overlooked realities that have to be dealt with are the issues of what’s gone wrong. Most everyone who has been involved in church life for long has experienced times when things didn’t go as planned or as hoped for. We are left with asking the question why. Sometimes, if not careful, we fall into the pit that says, “We tried that; it didn’t work.”
There are plenty of reasons why things might not have gone as designed. In this article I want to focus on a couple possibilities for why a small group fails to live up to expectations. Some of these come from others’ experiences but I have plenty of personal examples of having done things “wrong” in the past as well. Let’s look at
- Meetings without Purpose
It’s good that the gang likes each other and likes to get together. It is even good that study take place and discussions are lively. The purpose for Small Group life though is much more than enjoying one another and studying the Bible together. The first can be accomplished in any number of social settings. The second can be had in large gatherings on Sunday morning or in your personal quiet time.
There needs to be an intentionality about the whole purpose of seeing life-transformation through ongoing discipleship. The group leader needs to provide vision and direction and correction for the group to accomplish that goal. Before every get-together the leader needs to ask, “Why are we doing this?”
- Moving at the Wrong Speed
Every person who comes to your group is at a different place in their spiritual journey. They come with unique experiences and needs. It is the leader’s responsibility to know their circumstances and understand where they are at.
However, because it is a “group” of people, we need also to understand where the group is and how it needs to move forward as a unit helping the individuals grow in faith. Sometimes that means giving priority to the health and wellbeing of the group.
- Gathering only for a Meeting
Consistency in participation in meeting times is a hallmark of good Small Group practice. There is no real substitute for a regularly scheduled get-together with a predictable pattern of connection and interaction. My personal opinion is that the most needs are best met when the group meets weekly.
It is important to note though, that a meeting is not the best place to develop the relationships that will foster deep commitments to one another. In what I call “otherthanmeeting” gatherings, group members need to be able to socialize and to play and to relax and to simply enjoy each other’s presence. As a suggestion, a group leader ought to set aside times, at least on a quarterly basis, for the group to get together for something other than a meeting.
- Dying Discussions
Last week there was an article in the newsletter that addressed this issue in depth. Without going into all the detail, let me remind you of some kinds of question that can be used to keep discussions healthy, lively and enjoyable.
- Open-ended questions.
- Follow-up questions.
- Challenging questions.
- Practical questions.
- Staying through to Stagnation
There is a tension in group life. We want to know one another well and care for each other deeply in the group. However, one of the dynamics that takes place in group life is akin to the condition when a houseplant becomes root-bound in its pot. Things are really close, but growth comes to a halt.
Sometimes, we get caught in the comfortable. Growth, though, happens when we are stretched and pushed and made uncomfortable. Sometimes the only way to make this happen is to dig things up, separate them out and replant in several different pots. Then we can again see things flourish.
Are you guilty of any of these common mistakes? Leaders have got to intentionally create and care for the right environment for individuals in building healthy relationship and in fostering the right atmosphere for their group. Growth and health don’t happen accidentally. Without intentionality, groups will easily make these mistakes. Being active in addressing these dangers, we can see God do powerful things through group life.