“You don’t know what you don’t know.”
This is a popular saying you hear once in a while. Typically, you hear it when people are thinking in hindsight and explaining why something didn’t work out the way they thought. They likely made a decision in the past they thought was best at the time but didn’t foresee everything about the situation. If they would have known what they didn’t know, they would have made a different choice.
What I’d like to do here is try and help you avoid that situation when it comes to the small group experience.
What I want you to “know that you know” are the outcomes that occur when a small group of people follows healthy practices and principles of meeting together.
These are things that should emerge in the group, both on a small scale in each individual meeting; and on a large scale over time as the group goes about life together.
Many of us are so used to doing things a certain way and getting predictable results that we don’t know what’s possible and what SHOULD be happening. We think our experience is acceptable because we don’t know that anything else exists.
Here I’m going to outline not only what’s possible, but what the Lord desires as the experience for every church and small group. These are the results that should emerge. If these 10 things aren’t in your experience, it’s time to revisit the practices and principles by which you operate. These should be barometers that signal whether or not you’re on the right path.
No one will feel less important to the group than anyone else.
If a small group has formed itself into the shape of a circle (how the Lord designed) and operates by the practices and principles (outlined in this series) that hold the circle, everyone will feel indispensable. They’ll feel the freedom and the accountability to be a co-equal participant among those that are part of the group.
That equality will come in presence, contribution and responsibility. It won’t feel like there are one or a few more important people that are working with less important people to help them. It will feel like the whole group is peer-led.
No one will feel like their input isn’t wanted and needed.
In many small group settings, participants can fall into competitive behavior for different reasons; namely for obtaining boosts to self-esteem. When the circle is held, people become collaborators instead of competitors. Instead of people trying to take the wheel and drive the car, the whole group is steering and seeking the destination together.
It will feel like the insights and decisions that emerge did so through the group as a whole and not just one or a few people.
No one will feel like their unique perspective isn’t welcome and valuable.
To be a consistently wise group, it takes a diversity of perspectives and possibilities, no matter how crazy or wild people might think they are.
When the circle is held, a group accepts, embraces and considers differences in its search for what the group will create together. People will agree and disagree, but they keep on listening with curiosity as they lay their contributions down in the center and seek out Wisdom.
No one will get away with not contributing their unique part.
To hold the circle, everyone is kept accountable to everyone else, to agreements of interaction and to its stated purpose. In order to have equality, collaboration and diversity; there must be a leader sitting in every chair that comes to the group willing to show up.
While certain people will take on certain roles in small groups to make them function well, everyone has the role of participant. The circle is broken as soon as someone freeloads.
No one will ignore difficult discussions that will help better understand and love each other.
If a group is dealing with important matters and they bring a diversity of opinions, then passion and conflict will present itself. Here’s what the authors of The Circle Way: A Leader In Every Chair say about conflict…
Most human conflicts arise from a passion that has not had space to be fully expressed or witnessed by the other side. The goal is to fill the center with arrows – not to fill people’s laps. Arrows feed the fire and build like-heartedness – the sense that we can disagree yet still be respectful of one another.
The “arrows” they talk about are our thoughts and feelings. When the circle is held, conflict is embraced because we operate with principles and practices that don’t lead to division, but to healing.
No one will be a part of the group for long without experiencing real growth and healing.
If the conditions of a healthy church or small group are sustained, an environment is created where people are free and willing to lay down their burdens and receive healing through the group’s process of fulfilling its purpose.
The drive for and the ability to execute connection instead of division overcomes the issues that are brought into the group. Issues that have the potential to be explosive and wounding become paths to healing.
The total effect will be greater than the sum of the individual parts.
The group will access insights and come to decisions no one individual could have imagined by themselves. It will feel like constantly working on a jigsaw puzzle to piece together knowledge, wisdom and passion. Ideas build and a collective vision comes forth.
There won’t be a feeling that meetings are unproductive.
One major complaint people have in meetings of all kinds is that there are too many meetings where nothing happens. Following circle practices and principles will radically change the spirit of efficiency and participation to the point where every meeting becomes productive.
The group will feel like it’s constantly harvesting inherent Wisdom that emerges from the group’s participation and effort to fulfill its purpose together.
They wait for it patiently and trust the process to bring it forth. They will honor this Wisdom by committing together to shape their lives around it.
The end result is the whole purpose for why we meet. It’s the eternal purpose of God conceived before creation. It’s unity with God and each other.
A church or small group that follows God’s timeless practices and principles laid out in this series (and throughout the rest of this blog) will experience unity in the Spirit of God that is far beyond what the world could ever think possible. It’s the place of healing and growth as each member is conformed to His image (Romans 8:28-30). It’s the place that opens the world’s eyes and turns it upside down.
Training and hard work required
If you’re not regularly experiencing these 10 outcomes in your church or small group, there’s a breakdown somewhere in the practices and principles by which you’re operating. No church or small group is perfect of course, but every healthy church and small group will exude these characteristics.
These results are possible, but a group has to be trained in how to get them. It doesn’t just happen because people get together and have good intentions. Experiencing these outcomes requires skill and hard work.
The rest of the posts in the Made For Circle series are here.