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It is vital when you start a new small group to lay down some ground rules, so everyone is on the same page and understand what the group is all about. Here are four important guidelines to communicate to your group.
1. Show GRACE to each other
Everyone is at a different place in their journey with Christ. There will be some in your group that have not come to faith in Jesus yet. There are some who have been a believer for years, and there may be very young Christians. There may even be judgmental and critical Christians! Show grace to everyone. Create an atmosphere where everyone feels safe to share their perspective, beliefs, and stories. If group members are not allowed, or do not feel comfortable, to share what they think or believe, we will not be able to help them grow effectively.
The result of showing grace to one another is that people may share personal things in confidentiality…
2. What is shared in the group STAYS in the group
There may be times when sensitive or personal conversations will happen within your group. People may share very personal things that they feel safe speaking in the group but would not want it shared outside the group. These intimate moments in conversation with one another may not occur if it is not communicated up front that what is said in the group stays in the group. Small groups are a place for healing, but for that healing to come there must be a transparency where people can share openly. When it comes to Zoom or virtual meetings, it may require ensuring that group members are not situated in a place where family members or friends can overhear the conversation if someone else is sharing a personal moment. This may also need to be communicated beforehand.
It may be tempting to give advice when someone shares something personal, but…
3. Only share your advice if ASKED
Someone in the group shares a difficulty they have, and there is always one person who feels the need to give their advice even though no one has asked for it! I think that when most people share their struggles or a situation that they are dealing with, that they may be looking for some direction, but not always. If someone does want opinions, they most likely will ask for them. It is important that the group members know that unless asked, they do not need to share their advice. Doing so can cause more damage and result in the person not sharing again. If needed, the group leader can also invite other’s thoughts or experiences on the matter.
But when it comes to advice or opinions…
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4. Let opinions submit to what the BIBLE says
Group members can have their opinions, but we must always go back to what the Bible says. Because we show grace to one another, people can freely share their beliefs and perspectives, but opinions or advice given must bow to Biblical truth and instruction. The Bible in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and our cooperation to submit to it, is what grows us in spiritual maturity. Now, I am not saying to beat people over the head with the Bible, or thoughtlessly spout off Bible verses to people in the group. But as a group it is important to bring all opinions, perspectives, and advice to the light of God’s Word and make sure we are obedient to His view in the matter. Some people in the group may share their opinion when asked and that is healthy, but if they share an opinion that is opposite of what the Bible says in the matter, then that opinion should be gracefully challenged. This should also be balanced with where the person is in their journey with Christ, as the approach of how we present the truth may be different.
Lastly, but importantly…
5. Give INTROVERTS space to be themselves
It is hard enough for most introverts to join a small group in the first place, so there is no need to force them to talk, especially in the first few weeks. Give introverts an option whether to join the discussion or not. Others may have a different opinion about this but having a wife who is an introvert I have realized that it is important to understand that introverts do not need to be forced to be like extroverts. That is not how they were created or wired! Set the stage at the first meeting and say something like “I will ask different questions during our group meetings and obviously we want interaction from the group. But I understand we are all different, so if you are an introvert and you do not feel comfortable talking in the group right now, then just say, “Pass” or something like that.” The hope is that when the introvert is comfortable with the group that they may share, but in many cases, they will feel more comfortable sharing one-on-one.
If we can uphold these ground rules for group discussion, the group can flourish, and the members can grow with one another gracefully!