Even in a strong, growing and vibrant Small Group, there will be issues from time to time. For Christians, this is easier to understand because as we know we are "sinners", and that is "what humans do".
Issues can range from "normal", to "long term" to "serious". We provide "Solutions" to a full range of Small Group Issues in this Section.
Small Group issues probably aren't that different from issues in other business, nonprofit and personal groups. The difference is when Christian Small Groups have problems, it means people are not connecting on a deeper more meaningful level and the group is not growing in faith and relationship to Jesus. Most seriously, it means the Small Group is failing to reach Disciples for Jesus because of too much "inner focus".
Listed below is a list of major issues faced in Small Groups. Issues are listed under three Categories or "Levels". The issues listed are based upon comprehensive material provided in the book, "Three Levels of Small Group Problems" by Heather Zempel.
Level I. Issues every Small Group encounters at some time.
Level 2. Issues arising after a Small Group has been meeting for a while.
Level 3. Issues outside the scope of the Small Group Leader.
A brief summary of potential solutions and resolutions are offered below. For more detailed advice and recommended solutions, you should utilize the reference material.
Before proceeding, it is very appropriate to quote Spiritual Leader John Ortberg who said, "People who love authentic community always prefer the pain of temporary chaos to the peace of permanent superficiality." This is a very true and enlightening statement.
Level I. ORDINARY ISSUES
- People will not engage in discussion
- People shy away from praying out loud and/or prayer requests are shallow
- Someone repeatedly skips down rabbit trails and takes the whole group on the journey
- EGRs (Extra Grace Required). These people tend to be a bit more needy (They need more prayer, need more encouragement, and need more of you)
- Pray. Don't use prayer as a last resort; stay on the offense with prayer.
- Address the issue first with the person individually. Be natural and seek to understand things from their perspective. Make "observations" instead of accusations. For instance, "I've noticed that you don't comment much in the discussion. Is there something we can do to make it easier for you to engage the topic?"
- Be creative. This is especially helpful for the person skipping down rabbit trails. Come up with a time limit, a hand signal, or some other means to help them stay on track. You can actually make this fun and not burdensome.
- Be patient. None of these problems will kill your group, and taking the time to allow them to be solved naturally will create a culture where community can emerge.
Level II. LONGER TERM ISSUES
- Someone in the group monopolizes the conversation or takes on an authoritative/self-righteous tone
- Someone in the group constantly causes division or makes divisive comments
- Fights, arguments and conflict erupt in your group
- Conversations and relationships remain shallow and surface-level.
- Gossip runs rampant
- You have chronic complainers, or negative talk and attitudes emerge
- Someone in your group needs to be confronted about a sin
• Pray. Again, get out of a defensive posture and attack from an offensive position.
• Don't ignore the issue. You know there's a problem, and it's likely that everyone else in the group knows there's a problem.
• If the problem lies primarily with one individual, approach that person first. Again, make observations instead of accusations. Seek to understand the individual. Pray with them when you talk to them.
Get help when needed. If the individual is unresponsive or unrepentant, implement the biblical method for conflict resolution found in Matthew 18:15-20. Get a co-leader, coach, or pastor involved in the process.
• If something happens in your group, process it as a group. Don't ignore that the tensions exist or that the community is staying at a surface level. Address the topics within the group setting.
• Protect the group. If a problem persists, it may be necessary to ask a person to leave the group.
Level III. SERIOUS ISSUES
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Inappropriate relational and/or sexual behavior between group members
- Repeated divisiveness and offensive activity in the Group
- Suicidal tendencies and/or threats
- Mental, emotional instability and eating disorders
- Pray for the situation, but also be sure to get others (fellow group leaders, accountability partners, pastors, etc.) to pray for you.
- Notify your coach and/or pastor immediately. Be sensitive about who you tell. If it's a big problem, you may need to send it up the chain to a member of the Pastoral Team immediately.
- Be honest. If the person thinks they have told you something in confidence, inform them that you are obligated, as a person in leadership within your church, to let a member of the pastoral team know about the issue.
- Follow up. Your coach or pastor will work with you to develop an appropriate Plan of Action and Care.
Again we would like to thank Heather Zempel for her book, "The Three Levels of Small Group Problems". The book has the detail needed to help you with Small Group Issues you may run across.