Group begins and one woman tells us she really needs to leave on time tonight. Clear to me, she is talking to that one person: the one who hijacks our ending time every week. Nonetheless, like clockwork, when we get to the end of group time, she begins sharing an emotionally uncomfortable story, even more uncomfortable to interrupt. The sharing is out of context. We are out of time, and her needs are strung out there like laundry on a sunny day.
Have you been there? Have you participated in a small group where you secretly wished that one person wasn’t there? The one who talks too much, the one who says awkward things, or consistently pushes your group over the time limit? You cared about the person, but his or her presence created challenges for your group dynamic and eroded your ability to love them and others.
It’s even more challenging to be the leader of that group. I’ve been there wondering, How many members are waiting on me to redirect our group as she derails the conversation again? She’d been talking more than 15 minutes past our agreed-upon ending time, tears streaming down her face as she shared weighty personal matters. While we may hope issues like these will resolve on their own, the simple fact is they won’t.
Assess the Situation
All of us desire grace and love to be extended to us. We long and need to be welcomed just as we are, and rightly so. But how do we know when it’s time to extend grace and gently redirect someone who is off course in our small group? And when does extending grace mean asking the person to seek the support he or she needs outside of your small group? Here are five steps to helping you discern the answer to that question, and if necessary, guidelines on how to ask the person to leave.
1. Know when to accommodate.
Often a first or second offense during your small group is a time for accommodation. When group members are in a difficult season and find themselves in the supportive environment of your small group, they may spill out their emotions unexpectedly. I’ve done it myself. Accommodate their needs by offering statements such as “It sounds like you need (prayer, support, to share more about your story, etc.)” Then offer ways to meet that need in the moment. For instance, you could take a moment to pray sincerely for the group member, and then move forward. You could also ask what would be helpful in this season such as meals, babysitting, or transportation. Then after your meeting, send an email to the group members asking them to volunteer to extend such care.
When the situation above happened in my group, I kindly stated our group time was over, told others they were free to go but anyone able to stay and pray for the needs she had shared was welcome to do so. Accommodating within the expected boundaries of the group is a reasonable and loving step to take. Many people will self-correct and feel loved along the way, all while having their needs met.
2. Evaluate when to hold group members accountable.
When accommodating becomes commonplace because of a continual breach of group expectations, we need to hold group members accountable. If your group has a covenant or a list of expectations you agreed to at the beginning, review it as a whole group. Any group can benefit from the reminder of expectations like confidentiality, beginning and ending on time, and the focus and purpose of the group time. Discussing these expectations as a group ensures no one is singled out.