As small-group leaders, we're in an excellent position to help people who are struggling with doubt. We can speak love, grace, and truth into their lives while walking alongside them. We can provide a safe place to land with hard questions. And we should never underestimate the importance of that—many people have few places to turn when the questions creep in. When group members doubt their faith, follow these five steps to help them turn their doubt into deeper conviction:
1. Recognize the Signs of Doubt
Most people who struggle with doubt have trouble brewing in other areas of their lives. Rarely does a person have their best day and end it wondering, Where is God? We're much more likely to ask the big questions when we're disillusioned or feeling despair. That's exactly when we need clear thinking the most, and unfortunately, our emotions often make it hard to remain rational. This provides an opportunity for small groups—and small-group leaders—to offer objectivity, love, and grace. But we must be able to recognize the signs of doubt in order to help.
If your group has become a safe place for honest discussion already, you may find group members naturally open up about their doubts and questions. This is the best case scenario. Once they've admitted their struggle, you and your group members can begin moving forward.
Often, though, it won't be that obvious. Learn how to pay attention to your group dynamics to see if something is off. You may notice body language that reveals discomfort, a sudden reluctance to share, or a change in attendance. Be on the lookout for signs of emotional heaviness, which often accompanies doubt. Listen for any negativity group members may express about life, relationships, or faith. You'll also want to watch for sudden life changes—changing jobs, new relationships coming and going, the loss of loved ones, or experiencing a tragedy. These changes could prompt difficult faith questions that lead to doubt.
Everyone handles doubt differently. When I began struggling, I shared my questions with my family. Though I was embarrassed and felt like a failure, my family provided a safe place to talk and express my concerns. When my brother started doubting, though, he withdrew from us. We noticed that he was nervous and agitated, and he began moving quickly through jobs and relationships. We knew something was wrong, but he wasn't ready to talk. His reluctance required that we show him constantly how much we cared, continue asking him how he was, and create a safe place for him to share his struggles when he was ready—and eventually he did open up. It's important that we make room in our groups for the different ways people handle doubt, making it a safe environment without pushing them beyond what they're ready for.
2. Create a Safe Place for Confession
One of the saddest things I encounter when I speak is the number of women who confide in me because they're afraid to confide in others. Whether or not intentional, the faith community they are part of has created an atmosphere of unrealistic expectations. They're reluctant to appear vulnerable by sharing their concerns and doubts. I become a safe person because I've also experienced doubt. But because I'm leaving on the next flight, I'm the wrong person to confide in. I can't walk with them through their struggle like a small group can.
I wonder how church became a place only for the shiny, happy people whose lives appear all together. Jesus invested in much messier circumstances, and as small-group leaders, we need to reassure people of this. After Jesus spent time with what some felt where unsavory people, the religious leaders of Jesus' day questioned the company he kept. But his heart was for the people who saw their need. Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).