Summary: To have great small group discussions, each person has to do their job. It’s the only way to lay hold of the group’s collective Wisdom through having a leader in every chair. But participation requires preparation or the circle will be broken. This is done by supplying what is needed to prepare, and then honoring that preparation by focusing on it.
I enjoy watching a good football game. Frequently, close games come down to one play, and that play is many times a field goal try.
I don’t remember which kicker said this, but I do remember that after he made a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of an important game, he was interviewed by a reporter and was asked “Did you feel pressure or nervousness?” The kicker said no.
The reporter of course followed up with asking him “Why not?” The kicker said “I’ve been preparing for this moment, so there was nothing to be nervous about.”
Of course kickers don’t make every kick. But, he was put on the field and could attempt to execute the kick because he had prepared to do his job.
This is the same for every member of a team. One NFL team (the New England Patriots) that has had extreme success in the last 20 years has become famous for a motto they cling to – “do your job.”
To truly be a great team, each person on the team has to do their job and do it well.
This can be said for any church or small group.
The goal is every-member participation
A small group setting, which is typically a home or a smaller room, shows one thing clearly – each person’s engagement or lack of engagement. It shows each person’s willingness and/or freedom to do their job. For some people, a small group setting is immediately comfortable and they will be eager to contribute. For others, it will be uncomfortable.
Regardless, the goal should be the same…every-member participation. To have great small group discussions, each person needs to contribute in their unique way.
If we’re going to lay hold of the collective Wisdom (Christ) that is within the small group (which should be the goal), it requires everyone to show up. It requires that there be a leader in every chair.
But most people can’t and won’t just show up ready to contribute. For most people, they need to cultivate ways they may contribute by thinking and reflecting individually on the purpose of the discussion and what is required of them specifically. Just like for a great NFL kicker, it requires preparation.
In the case of a small group discussion, it’s like each person is preparing their own ingredients and bringing them to the meeting so that the group can mix it all together and bake it into a final product that everyone gets to partake of.
If people don’t “prepare and bring their ingredients,” the final product will be less than what it could be.
If you follow the process laid out in the 2nd post of this series, the motivation for doing this from each person comes from the delivery of a clear and effective invitation that explains the group’s purpose, why their participation is essential to the group accomplishing its purpose and what contributions are expected of them.
Lack of preparation breaks the circle
Without a group being prepared in this way, the only options for gatherings are to do things that don’t cultivate the goal of every-member participation. Typically, a small group leader will do things like…
- Throw questions at people they haven’t had a chance to think about. Many people can’t stand being put on the spot. Instead of truly thinking about good answers to build the discussion, many of them will simply be wishing someone else will talk.
- Ask for people’s agreement regarding decisions on the spot. People are more likely to get pushed around by more aggressive personalities and agree to things they haven’t had a chance to process. This can lead to future bitterness and resentment from not feeling truly valued and heard, nor being involved in decision-making processes.
- Ask people general questions like “what did you think about what we read?” This typically leads to 2 or 3 “talk-way-more-ers” dominating conversation and the rest of the “talk-almost-never-ers” standing by. A few people feel really good because they got the recognition and attention they crave, while most of the others are suppressed.
If you do any of these types of things, it won’t matter what you do to try and encourage everyone to participate to the same degree. It won’t happen.
Sure, you can go around the circle and “require” an answer to each question posed from everyone. But if people didn’t prepare, you’ll get the same result as if you just threw out the question for anyone to answer. Those more comfortable with sharing will share. Those that aren’t as comfortable won’t be likely to open up.
In all of these cases, the lack of preparation leads to processes during the gathering that break the circle (which is God’s designed structure for small group discussions).
Provide and honor the agenda
What does work?
Giving people what they need to participate in their unique way, and then keeping the conversation focused on what they prepared to talk about.
Whether a small group is coming together to review some kind of material, answer some kind of question, come up with some kind of strategy or plan, or make some kind of decision; each person invited needs to be prepared to do their job. That means they need an agenda, and it needs to be honored.
Now, this doesn’t mean the discussion can’t go somewhere that wasn’t planned. We’re talking here on a principle level that’s focused on what generally needs to happen. But, we should always be looking to bring discussions back to what was prepared and tie it into the purpose of the discussion.
Preparation reveals who belongs
I hear you thinking…what if people don’t come prepared? We’ve all been a part of a group where everyone had what they needed to be prepared and some didn’t do so.
If this is the case, then you need to take a step back with that person, or even with the entire group if it’s multiple people. We can initiate a discussion as to why and if that person really belongs in the group.
If the invitation stated the purpose of every-member participation clearly and a person doesn’t participate, then they may not belong. For any group, the people that belong are those that are willing to help the group accomplish its purpose. That’s their job. That’s why they were included in the invitation.
If any person isn’t motivated or willing to be the leader the group needs them to be, we need to know why. In this case, there’s no judgment to be leveled on the person. We can deal with them with humility and gentleness as we’re supposed to.
We can even take responsibility for not knowing them well enough to know they wouldn’t connect with the purpose of the group and put forth the effort needed. In all likelihood, we either shouldn’t have included them in the invite, or there’s another issue taking place we’re unaware of.
But if they’re not willing to prepare and participate in a helpful way, they’re not ready to be a part of the circle.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this. Obviously if a person is new to the group, patience should be exercised with their getting up to speed and leniency would be given in terms of their participation.
It’s likely even wise not to include them in the small group conversations until relationships with the members have had a chance to grow to a certain point outside of the circle in social settings. Sitting in a circle and dealing with issues is getting into each other’s personal space. You want to be sure each person is ready to do that with each participant. Doing this too soon can be dangerous (see this post for further explanation).
But when it is time for someone to be invited into the circle, the purpose and expectations for the group’s existence and their participation should be made clear right away, and it should be implemented by them in a timely manner, or it breaks the circle.
So, supply each person clearly with what they need to know to be fully prepared to do their job in accomplishing the purpose of each small group discussion.
The rest of the posts in the Made For Circle series are here.