Avoiding Pitfalls in Group Dynamics

Here are a few ways to keep the peace.

Here are some quick-hitting tips for small-group leaders on maintaining the peace in your small group—at least, as much as is reasonable.

Observe Reactions vs. Responses

It is a good thing when a person responds to another with words of empathy and appropriate counsel. It is a different matter when they react to what the other person is saying because it does not harmonize with their own understanding or because it strikes an uncomfortable chord within them.

A person's quick advice might reveal their own discomfort in what the person is saying. This may offer an opportunity to carefully inquire or minister to the person who reacted to what was said. In other words, watch how people respond to what others share to facilitate conversation AND gain insight to the inner life of your group participants.

Do Not Tolerate Pettiness or Bickering Over Trivial Issues

Majoring on the minors is a habit for some. Don't allow abstract theological arguments to ensue over technical points of doctrine or trivial matters. This doesn't help to build a healthy small-group dynamic, and it's a turn-off to those just getting started in their relationship with God.

Unless your group specifically has a focus on examining and discussing more complex theological issues, ask those who tend to enjoy this to debate outside of your regular group time. Intellectualism is a good thing and can enrich the group. However, unless it is coupled with "why" and "how" application questions, it is not beneficial in a mixed group dynamic. Err toward discussion over debate. Promote safety. Maintain the highest level of awareness toward those with the lowest level of biblical literacy. (See these verses for more guidance on the subject: 1 Timothy 1:3–7, 6:3–5; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9).

Beware the "Introversion and Argumentation Correlation"

Petty conflict frequently signals that your group has turned in on itself. For example, you can be sure your small group has gotten off track if they are more concerned with the signs and times of the end of the world then bringing in the harvest before Jesus returns. At times you will need to dredge the bottom of your small group's stream so it can flow again by turning the focus of people away from themselves. The best way to do this is to engage in outreach together.

Watch the Louder Voice of Actions

Listen for the tone of a speaker's voice, look at their countenance, and observe their movements and posture—all can be indicators of what they're really feeling and thinking. For example, if somebody is tightly crossing their arms and angling their legs and body away from other participants, they might be uncomfortable with sharing or what's being said.

In this instance, respect a person's distant state. If the relationship has been sufficiently developed, you might come back around later during the group's prayer time and, without singling anyone out, touch on how the earlier discussion might have been uncomfortable for some. More often, it's good to make a mental note of this and talk or pray with the person one-on-one after group.

Allow Your Discussions to Have Application

If your small-group participants walk away from the small group without a way to translate what has been discussed to their real life situations, they might feel as though they're going in circles. They're probably right!

One way to keep your small group focused is to challenge group members to apply in their own lives what was discussed. Ask people what difference the meeting's discussion will make to their lives over the next week or what changes they will make in response to what has been discussed.

Encourage "I" Statements vs. "You" Statements

When restating what a person is saying or when handling conflict, begin by saying, "What I hear you saying is … " or "What I sense when you say. … " Then ask them if your interpretation is accurate. This encourages understanding instead of the frustration that results when someone uses "You" statements (e.g. "You said … " or "You always make me feel … ").

"I" statements communicate that what you are hearing the person say is your perception of what has been spoken, not necessarily what has been said (or what the person intended to say). This will help the person who is speaking to know they've been understood or misunderstood while fostering a sense of acceptance. Restating the speaker's comments with "I" statements shows that you are genuinely trying to understand what the person is saying without judgment or accusation. It also helps the person responding to express more personal feelings about what the original speaker shared.

—Reid Smith is Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He is also the founder of 2orMore Resources.

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