The Three Levels of Small-Group Problems

Learn how to classify and resolve periods of "temporary chaos" in group life.

My husband and I purchased a house recently, and it got me thinking: Do you ever wish you could just put your small group on the market and let some new leader deal with the problems? If you've never felt this way, then you probably haven't been leading for very long. And if you're thinking to yourself, Problems? What problems?, then strap yourself in, because this could be a bumpy ride.

If you lead a small group, you will encounter problems. There's no way around it. When you deal with people, it gets messy. These problems can range from the fairly benign (people won't talk in my group) to the very serious (someone has threatened suicide). That isn't to scare you; it's to equip you.

When faced with a problem, it's important to identify the type and severity of the problem, and then determine the next course of action. That's the purpose of this article.

Level 1 Problems

Level 1 Problems are the ones that will be encountered in every small group at some point. Examples include the following:

• People will not engage in discussion

• People shy away from praying out loud

• Someone repeatedly skips down rabbit trails and takes the whole group on the journey

• Prayer requests are shallow

• EGRs (Extra Grace Requireds). These people tend to be a bit more needy—they need more prayer, need more encouragement, and need more of you.

These are typical small-group issues, and you will face them at some point if you haven't already. Here are some steps for addressing these types of small-group problems:

Pray. Don't use prayer as a last resort; stay on offense with prayer.

Address the issue first with the person individually. Be natural and seek to understand from their perspective. Make "observations" instead of accusations. For instance, "I've noticed that you don't comment much in the discussion. Is there something we can do to make it easier for you to engage the topic?"

Be creative. This is especially helpful for the person skipping down rabbit trails. Come up with a time limit, a hand signal, or some other means to help them stay on track. You can actually make this fun and not burdensome.

Be patient. None of these problems will kill your group, and taking the time to allow them to be solved naturally will create a culture where community can emerge.

Level 2 Problems

Level 2 Problems will also occur in your group if you stay together long enough and allow community to emerge. Here are some examples:

• Someone in the group monopolizes the conversation or takes on an authoritative or self-righteous tone

• Someone in the group constantly causes division or makes divisive comments

• "Discussions" (read: fights, arguments, conflict) erupt in your group

• Conversations and relationships remain shallow and surface-level. Your group becomes a pseudo-community, in other words.

• Gossip runs rampant

• You have chronic complainers, or negative talk and attitudes emerge

• Someone in your group needs to be confronted about a sin

These problems require a little more skill and a bit of confidence. Here are some ideas:

Pray. Again, get out of the defensive posture and attack from an offensive position.

Don't ignore the issue. You know there's a problem, and it's likely that everyone else in the group knows there's a problem. Ignoring problems never makes them go away.

If the problem lies primarily with one individual, approach that person first. Again, make observations instead of accusations. Seek to understand them. Pray with them when you talk them.

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