"God, help me!" I silently prayed while smiling at the young adults in my "small" group. It was our first time together, and they had just shared their names, nationalities and spiritual backgrounds. I had never led such a diverse group.
Tara had never been exposed to religion.Jackie, who brought her, attended an Evangelical Free church.Rand, an East Indian Sikh, came with James, a non-churched believer. John was raised in Buddhism. Emily was a Japanese atheist. The Filipino, Trinidadian, Chinese, and Swedish girls were Roman Catholics. And Cathy (that's me) was Pentecostal!
For the past six years my husband and I have been involved in evangelism outreach courses with an interdenominational team. Facilitating small groups in this setting has been exciting-and challenging. We have discovered through trial and error (lots of both!) what seems to work—and what doesn't.So, here are our suggestions for those leading a super mixed group:
Envision Success. When I realized I would be facilitating discussions with such a diverse group, I wanted to push the panic button and disappear. But I reminded myself that God had brought us together—not me. I imagined him smiling down with a twinkle in his eye.He had great plans for us, so I might as well relax and enjoy the ride!
Establish your position. Are you a teacher or a discussion facilitator? If you are an instructor, you will have a prepared script which you can arrange—and rearrange—to suit your particular mix of students. However, if you are a discussion facilitator, your role will be to simply get your group talking.You will serve more as a referee than an information-giver.
Examine your group. Get to know each individual as best as you can.Listen intently. Find out their family history, hobbies, spiritual background, etc.
For instance, Tara informed us that she worked for a circus. She decided to join our course on basic Christianity after watching the movie "The Passion of the Christ." "I came to find out more about Jesus," she stated. After several sessions, we learned she grew up in a dysfunctional family and was abused as a child. I tried to make her feel loved and accepted.
Exhibit a Christ-like attitude. As the leader, you set the tone for your group.
If you come across as friendly and nonjudgmental, the participants are more likely to feel free to converse openly and honestly. Welcome and acknowledge the participants by name. Also show concern for those who are missing. This is especially important in a mixed group. You may win them by example when you cannot win them by words.
Establish the rules. When leading a diverse group, it's important to lay down some policies right from the beginning. If you don't, members may feel you are picking on them at some point. Some basic rules for the mixed group may be:
- Your contribution to the discussion is important, but you can remain silent if you wish.
- Respect each other's opinions.
- Stay on topic as much as possible.
- Listen to each other.
- Take turns; don't dominate the discussion.
- Don't leave with unanswered questions. Direct your concerns to the leader after the discussion if you are not satisfied with the groups' conclusions.
Excel in leading. When leading a group where opinions are strong and tempers may flare, it is important to keep control of the group. Be sensitive to individuals, but remember you are the leader. If one member controls the discussion, redirect the conversation with a follow-up question to another member. It is helpful to sit next to the most talkative person instead of facing them.
Engage everyone. Try to get each group member to participate. The more you know them, the better equipped you are to know what questions may appeal to them. It is important that each person's opinion is valued and respected. Whether they are atheists or an over-the-top Christians, they should feel that someone has listened to them—and is trying to understand their point of view.
Elaborate on their comments. So that there are no misunderstandings, repeat back to them in your own words what you thought they said. If you disagree, simply say, "That's interesting." Then ask someone else what they think.
Enlist help. Get the mature Christians on your side.If need be, take them aside and explain how important it is to allow the unbeliever and new Christians to express their views and ask questions. Ask them to pray and to be prepared with scripture and personal stories to help with the difficult issues that may arise.
Embrace the Holy Spirit's help. Whether you are a teacher or a discussion facilitator, you are not alone. Ask the Spirit for wisdom and knowledge to lead the group in a Christ-like manner. And pray for the individual needs. We cannot argue people into the kingdom—or to think as you do.
Evaluate your progress. Some people can express themselves better on paper than by talking. At the end of your course, have each member fill out a questionnaire in regards to your study. This will help you to improve when you lead your next super mixed group!