Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Minister to Multiple Spiritual Maturity Levels.
Small groups can be dynamic gatherings of people growing closer to God and one another as small-group leaders guide group members toward their next spiritual steps. Yet when a small group includes everything from lifelong believers to faith newbies, helping group members grow in spiritual maturity can feel like an insurmountable task. Consider these four opportunities for maximizing growth when leading a multi-stage group.
Multiple stages in small groups offer people the opportunity to model, practice, and receive grace. When there's a mixture of on-the-fence believers, faithful believers, and former believers, your group represents a variety of perspectives present in the world. You have the opportunity to help group members develop relationships with people that may be very different from them. This will equip them to give and receive grace outside your group.
Dedicate time to small talk and casual conversation. As counterintuitive as that sounds, people need to get to know each other socially so they can come to understand each other spiritually. One great idea is to build a meal into your small-group time or dedicate a portion of your meeting to coffee and refreshments. The casual conversation over food will help build trust and deepen relationships within the group.
Incorporate icebreakers at the beginning of your study time. While icebreakers may not seem to have much lasting value, they actually go a long way in setting up a healthy environment that will help group members develop authentic relationships. Icebreakers give group members a chance to interact in both a personal and social way, setting the stage for grace to flow more freely in spiritually challenging conversations.
One icebreaker idea is to ask group members to identify both their favorite and most-hated childhood foods. It will get everyone talking and sharing, and probably provide a few laughs. It can also launch into a discussion on Daniel, the Jewish Feasts, or Romans 14. For great icebreaker ideas, view the ideas at SmallGroups.com.
Use prayer time to help group members know one another at a deeper level. Not everyone is comfortable sharing personal prayer requests simply because you ask for them. If you sense that group members aren't sharing authentically during your prayer request time, try something new. One idea is to create a handout featuring a variety of emoticons. Pass them out at prayer time and ask each person to circle two emoticons that sum up their feelings during the past week. Then have them gather in groups of two or three and share why they picked those two emoticons. Members of the smaller groups can then pray for one another. Or simply divide up into groups of two or three before asking for prayer requests. The smaller group may be enough to draw quieter members out.
See with Fresh Eyes
When multiple stages of spiritual maturity are represented in a small group, group members are able to see God's Word with fresh eyes. When a lifelong believer—who knows the Word by heart—and a new believer—who is not sure where to start reading—come together for study, both learn new insights.
Read Scripture from multiple translations during your study. Use both a more traditional translation and a modern translation. Consider the differences in how the words are translated and the changes in language over the years.