Imagine we are sitting in Starbucks. You are about to enter a new small group, and you have asked my advice on how to be an effective small-group member. Here's what I would say.
Be a Good Listener
Go into your small group committed to listening. Try to understand rather than be understood. There are a lot of hurting people who come to small groups to unload. They need your compassion and empathy. The first place to start is to listen intently.
Don't be so quick to share your story. Listen to the stories of others. In one sense, when you listen to others, you are earning your right to be heard. Granted, at times this can be hard and painful. You will have to listen to poor decisions, bad habits, and people who grate on your sensibilities. Yet, listening is one of the chief characteristics of love, and Jesus told us to love one another and be patient with one another.
After you have thoroughly listened, be ready to contribute. Some people in the group may talk too much, but the other extreme is not talking at all. As a small-group leader, I rejoice when a proactive listener also contributes to the discussion. When I ask people to share their thoughts, I often hope that so-and-so won't blurt out an immediate answer because I know he already talks too much. I'm hoping that other members will share their reflections, but far too often the quieter ones hesitate.
Don't allow one or two people to dominate the entire meeting. Be a contributor. You have something important to say. Even if someone else has given the right answer, there's always more than one way to apply the answer. Other people in the group want to hear what you think.
Share with Transparency
Tell the group how you really feel. Open up the windows of your heart and let people see the real you. I've noticed that the best small-group members share their joys and struggles. They respond to the lesson questions based on how God is working in their lives. They speak in the first person, rather than the third person.
Some group members always give impersonal answers about what the Bible says, what others should do, or how people in general should live. Their answers might be correct, but they don't go deep enough. They don't zero in on how God's Word has touched their own lives.
Take advantage of the intimate, family atmosphere of the small group by sharing what's really happening in your life—and allowing others to hold you accountable. One of the key differences between a small group and the Sunday celebration is the chance to share personally, receive prayer, and get to know others more deeply.
Be a Responsible Member
Responsibility means the leader can count on you. The best small-group members make a commitment to be there for each gathering. They also let the leader know in advance when they can't make it. Granted, life presents unforeseen obstacles. But if you can't make it to the group, call or text the leader that you won't be there.
Responsible membership also involves arriving on time to the group. I remember one couple who was consistently 30 minutes late. I know they didn't behave this way for doctor's appointments or for scheduled client sessions (he was a lawyer). Yet, with their actions, they were saying to everyone else that the small group wasn't really a priority. Their late arrival was also a distraction because we were often praying or worshipping when they entered. Someone had to answer the door and their arrival normally disrupted what we were doing. Make it a point to arrive on time.