Do you have a sense of the people who played major roles in your group members' lives? As the old adage says, "A person is known by the company he (or she!) keeps."
What main events have occurred that have shaped this person? What are the major high points and low points of his or her life?
My favorite tool to kick off small-group meetings is an exercise called, Peaks and Valleys. Group members draw a horizontal timeline across a piece of paper. On the left is the year of their birth. On the right is the present year. Each person then draws a line from left to right that fluctuates above and below the timeline like an EKG report. Anything above the line is something good or positive, and anything below is something painful or negatively impactful. The farther up or down the line is drawn, the more impactful the event was. If you got married in a certain year, for instance, your line might go quite a bit higher than your baseline. If a relative passed away, your line would undoubtedly drop bit at that year.
What you end up with is a graphical representation of the plot of each group member's life. Amazing revelations undoubtedly occur as you learn how major events have shaped each person in the room.
A close friend of mine recently described a struggle he and his wife were having. They found it difficult to understand why God appears to be silent at times, even in the midst of tragedy or great need. During our conversation, he revealed that his wife was diagnosed with cancer 6 years ago when she was in her 20's. They almost didn't have kids as a result. I asked him a number of follow-up questions, because I realized experiences that happened during that trial were directly linked to the challenge they were encountering today. Without knowing that critically important plot point in their story, I would only have been able to minister at a superficial level. Instead, we were able to talk about his walk with God in light of it and make some real progress.
Do you know your group members' peaks and valleys? Do they know yours?
What major problems has this person encountered? What big challenges is he or she facing right now?
Imagine you're on a sailboat in Lake Michigan, just off the coast of Chicago. The skyline is in view as you enjoy the brisk spring air. Suddenly, you notice something in your periphery. There's someone in the water! You adjust your course and head for the person in need. The person is shouting, "Help! I'm drowning!"
It would be totally inappropriate to shout back: "It's okay! I'm a fantastic swimming instructor! I'll teach you to swim right now so you can swim to shore!"
Some of the members of our group could be in this situation. They may have a failing marriage that is failing, have recently experienced a job loss, or are dealing with a scary health diagnosis. As leaders, we must be sensitive to these conflicts and challenges. God wants to meet his children in their distress and need, and we can be his hands and feet. Knowing the conflicts (past and present) of your group members is an opportunity to minister to them more effectively.
What major conflicts have your group members dealt with? What are they currently dealing with?