12 February

5 Tips to Dealing with Difficult Small Group Members by Margaret Feinberg

Now maybe like me, you’ve been part of a small group where one or two people make it, ahem, challenging to stay focused on the Scripture and spiritual growth. 

Maybe you’ve got a talker who takes so long to tell a story there’s no time for anyone else. Or maybe you’ve got a member that pipes up with the “right answer’ so quickly that there’s no space for anyone else to wrestling through the question. Or maybe you’ve got a member that never says a word.

What do you do? 

Of course, you love them, respond in gentleness, redirect with humor (when appropriate), and celebrate that they’re made in God’s image.  

But what else? 

Here are 5 tips to equip you to respond well to difficult people and situations in your small group: 

1. Set healthy guidelines. 

At the start of the group (or as soon as possible), introduce ground rules to create a safe, vibrant environment for spiritual growth.

This may include: starting and ending on time; confidentiality; welcoming disagreement as healthy; limiting sharing to a 2-4 minutes; encouraging support but not trying to “fix” anyone; embracing silence and pause in conversation; and avoiding side conversations during the group gathering. 

Return to these guidelines every few months or whenever an issue arises to gently remind all members of the ground rules. 

2. Recognize your limits. 

Some issues that are raised need more than what you or your small group can offer. For example, a small group is not professionally trained to handle mental health struggles, childhood trauma, or complex financial difficulties. Even if you have a member who is trained in these areas, those issues should be dealt with in a private office, not the group.

Together, you can find professional recommendations in your community to help the person. 

3. Use different tactics for different people. 

If you have a talker, grab the moment they take a breath to jump in and invite others to share.

If you have a silent member, create opportunities to break off into pairs to discuss so they have a space place to talk.

If you have a toxic sharer, pull the member aside to explain the negative behavior, and then offer some healthy alternatives for them to share, such as with a counselor. 

4. Rotate through facilitators. 

Everyone has unique leadership gifts. Invite different members to facilitate to develop their leadership skills. Some will likely be able to develop fresh, gracious tactics to help manage difficult situations. 

5. Celebrate the group’s wins. 

When you have a time of rich study, deep sharing, or special connection, say it aloud in that meeting.

“There was time for everyone to share, everyone to be seen and heard, and to experience the wonder of God and Scripture–this has been really special, thank you to God and to each of you!”

Affirmation can go a long way to building a healthier group. 

Remember that your participation and leadership in small groups matters more than you realize as you gather to taste and see that the Lord is good!

Leading a small group Bible study is important to people’s spiritual growth but doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Following the above tips will help your group take the next step in your journey of faith.

James Bible Study Guide plus Streaming Video: What You Do Matters

Most studies from HarperChristian Resources include a Leader’s Guide in the back of the study guide. These guides provide help as you prepare for each session, assistance in structuring your discussion time, and further guide you to understand different group dynamics.

A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether is Margaret’s new JAMES: WHAT YOU DO MATTERS Join Margaret in a joy-filled, fresh study of the book of the Bible that sounds more like Jesus than any other letter in the New Testament. You’ll discover the genuine markers of true faith, develop new practices of spiritual maturity, and discover how much the Father of heavenly lights treasures you.

Learn more about James here.

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