Despite good intentions, group members have certainly felt hurt or offended by some of what they've learned in racial reconciliation groups. But the long-term good outweighs the temporary discomfort of working through conflict. "We can see differences in how we're resolving conflict and seeking to understand one another," says Gorman. "When people have parties and invite people over for dinner, we're starting to see those tables become more diverse. People don't want to be part of the problem—they want to be part of the solution."
Trend 3: New Emphasis on Coaching Leaders
With these new group formats, small-group pastors and directors have discovered a need to intentionally develop leaders who can disciple group members. This has led to a rising desire for effective models of coaching and training leaders. A recent conference I attended had to offer multiple breakout sessions on coaching simply to accommodate the high interest in the topic. While there are many ways to effectively coach smallgroup leaders—small groups of leaders led by a coach, one-on-one coaching, and even peer (leader-to-leader) coaching—the goal is always the same: to walk alongside leaders as they face unique group issues.
Even churches that offer robust training programs to prepare new group leaders simply can't prepare them for everything they might face. Rather, there's a need for ongoing training that addresses specific needs as they arise. Imagine, for instance, the issues that might arise in a racial reconciliation small group. The leader may need coaching on how to walk the group through a sticky conflict, or how to have a one-on-one talk with a group member who doesn't realize how offensive his statements are. On the other hand, someone leading a simple-structure small group may need strategies to drive the conversation back to Scripture, or how to help the conversation take on a more optimistic tone when one group member complains about her job at every meeting.
The more variety we offer with our small groups, the more varied the issues will be. And while most can be overcome, leaders do need specific coaching as they walk through the more difficult parts of group life. And, as small groups foster real relationships and life change, we're bound to see a variety of issues come up—because real relationships and real life change aren't easy. If we see leaders in need of help as their group members grapple with living out their faith, we should wear it as a badge of honor. This seems to be a sure measurement that small groups are beginning to accomplish their mission.
Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com. She has served as a small-group minister, community outreach coordinator, and small-group leader.