Imagine a home with a sign on the front door, "Conflict is Expected and Welcome!" Most of us would panic when we saw that sign, especially if it was the location where a small group was meeting.
We live by the maxim, "Avoid conflict at all costs." But conflict and disagreement will happen no matter what you do or how well you do. Someone once said, "The course of truth never does run smooth."
Let me suggest a new understanding for the church just starting small groups (and all the others): "Conflict is expected and welcome!" Conflict will happen, and what you make of it—positive or negative—will have a lasting impression.
Conflict in a smaller church is a more obvious and visible element to deal with; disagreement between two families can be felt church-wide and even community-wide. In a larger church setting, conflict remains part of ministry but doesn't always bring the church to crisis. In either setting, the conflict must be handled.
From the rural church with 25 people to the inner-city church with 500 or more to the mega-church of thousands, there are ample areas for conflict that will arise in a small group setting. There is style of leadership, content of the study, focus or purpose of the group, personalities, details such as meeting times and location, and more. Aside from all that, we should acknowledge that outside of specific areas of conflict, there are also people of conflict—people who simply thrive on stirring up trouble.
There are some basic principles for handling conflict in a small group.
- Churches and groups must learn to acknowledge and address conflict directly and immediately. Don't ignore it. Don't run from it. Make it work for the good of the Kingdom.
You and I have been in situations where conflict has started. And one common solution is to ignore it or work around it, hoping that eventually the conflict will dissolve or the people will get involved with something else. Another response is to "turn tail and run." One man actually changed groups on a regular basis simply to avoid getting personal and getting into conflict. When the behavior was addressed, he left the church for another congregation. These avoidance methods simply take up time and energy and do not resolve the issues or foster any kind of growth.
Please know that your response as a leader will have a strong influence on how the conflict and resolution is perceived by the entire group. If you positively welcome the conflict and potential outcome, the results can be uplifting; if you negatively avoid conflict, the results can be deadly for the group.