Learning to Lead a Small Group - Lesson 3

Keys to Healthy Small Groups

What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? People support what they are part of creating. Plan your first meeting carefully. Different distances invite different types of communication. The behavior you want to sustain, make sure you enact the first time.

Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Keys to Healthy Small Groups

I. Healthy Small Groups

A. Clear Purpose

B. A Good Beginning

C. A Helpful Leader

1. Pray

2. Prepare

3. Guide

4. Care

D. Clear Communication Patterns

E. Worthwhile Content

F. Growing Trust and Caring

G. Centered in Jesus Christ

II. Types of Small Groups

A. Relationship

B. Content

C. Task

D. Need

III. Getting off to a Good Start

A. Pray

B. Establish yourself as the group leader

C. Consider the physical and social environment

D. Build relationships

E. Clarify organizational and administrative details

F. Set productive patterns of behavior the first meeting

  • In this lesson, you will learn the importance of small group theology, and it starts with an understanding of God's role in community. Dr. Ron Pyle explains that all of history is essentially a history of God's communal activity with humankind, starting with creation. God is the author and perfector of community, and God establishes its boundaries, identity, and future establishment of a new Jerusalem where God's people will dwell in community with one another and with God.
  • In this lesson, you learn effective small group leadership, fostering spiritual growth and supportive relationships, handling challenges, and developing future leaders.
  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? People support what they are part of creating. Plan your first meeting carefully. Different distances invite different types of communication. The behavior you want to sustain, make sure you enact the first time.

  • By studying this lesson, you learn how to effectively create and implement a small group contract to establish clear expectations, improve group dynamics, and foster a supportive and productive environment.
  • Gain insight into effectively leading small groups through the five stages of group life, while learning to adapt your leadership style and navigate changing group dynamics.
  • By promoting honest sharing in small groups, you foster trust, facilitate spiritual growth, and learn effective techniques to create a safe environment, ask open-ended questions, and practice active listening.
  • By leading effective small group discussions, you foster spiritual growth, encourage participation, and create a safe environment for open sharing and deeper connections.
  • You gain insight into power dynamics in relationships, specifically within small groups, and learn to foster healthy power dynamics, ensuring a balanced, inclusive, and constructive group environment.
  • By understanding conflict management in small group leadership, you develop the skills to foster a healthy group dynamic, resolve conflicts, and maintain a positive, collaborative environment.

What relationships are important to you? How do you develop trust? How can you share in a meaningful way with others? When you experience conflict in relationship, how can you manage it in a way that will grow your relationship? What does the Bible say about the importance and purpose of a small group?

Dr. Pyle leads you through the process from planning a small group, creating a contract, the beginning meetings, leading discussions, stages of group life and managing conflict. You will benefit from his training and experience as he gives you insights into the skills you will need and the commitments you can make to lead a group well. He will also give you insight into interpersonal communication dynamics in a group situation that will help you effectively guide and motivate the people in your group to share at a deep level.

Anytime there are people involved there are no guarantees, but there are few activities more rewarding than cultivating authentic relationships in a community of faith. This is class gives you the information and motivation you will need to get a good start and finish well. Don't miss this opportunity!

Dr. Ron Pyle

Learning to Lead a Small Group


Keys to Healthy Small Groups

Lessong Transcript

[00:00:07] Good groups have a clear purpose. We know why we are. You will occasionally meet people who say, Yeah, I'm going to show up at a small group. I really don't have any expectations. If ever somebody says that to you. What you should tell them is what I always tell my students when they tell me I don't have any expectations. You're kidding. And they'll tell you, No, I really don't have any expectations. I go, Honestly, you don't have any expectations? Nope. I'm going wide open. And then I usually say something like, Well, I bet if you showed up to the small group and they punched you in the face instead of welcoming you, I bet you'd be surprised everybody was naked. Yeah. If everyone was naked, I bet you would be surprised. Now I exaggerate for effect. The principle is not an exaggeration. Everybody's got expectations all the time. You had expectations in coming this morning, and sometimes those expectations are fulfilled and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're fulfilled in ways you didn't expect. But you've got expectations. So does everybody. Clear purpose helps people manage those expectations. What are we trying to be about and what can you expect? Good groups have a good beginning. As I mentioned to you earlier, the first 7 to 10 meetings are the most crucial part of group life. Good groups have a helpful leader. Now, here's the thorny question. What's helpful mean? What's a good leader? One person might say somebody who can take control, give direction, set a firm course. Is that true? Sometimes it depends. It depends on the life stage of your group, the makeup of your group, and what the group needs. Sometimes what I've just described to you is a good leader. Sometimes it's horrible, depending on a whole host of variables.

[00:02:06] Now, here are four primary functions of good leaders. How you get them done will depend on a whole host of variables we just talked about. Here are your four main jobs. Pray. Your job is to bring your group and the individuals in it and yourself before God in prayer. Pray. Prepare Your job as a leader is to prepare. Prepare the physical space of your meeting. Prepare lessons. Prepare relational connection. The third is guide. Your job is to guide the lesson, the sharing, not to control it. But it is your responsibility to guide it. Pray, prepare, guide. And the fourth is care that you giving interpersonal care to the people who are in your group. Especially. You're looking for people who feel marginalized, who feel insignificant, whose ideas get met with rolled eyes and audible sigh, as well as people who would tend to dominate in groups. Pray, prepare, guide and care. Those are your four principal leadership functions. Good groups have clear communication patterns about things like How will we handle the disclosure when it's sharing time? Clarity of Communication around the Bible Study Lesson. Healthy groups have worthwhile content like I sometimes I sometimes chuckle when I hear churches and groups that are struggling to get people attracted to small groups and they scratch their heads going. People don't seem to want to come. How do we make this enticing and attractive to people? Well, guess what? I'm sorry. That was rhetorical. If. If what's going on there is great. You don't have to sell it to people. They'll come anyway. The Young Life Ministry in the high school where I grew up was designed to start with adolescents in their freshman year of high school. But what was happening there was so attractive to me.

[00:04:40] I snuck into young life when I was in eighth grade. I wasn't even invited. I heard about how great it was. I wanted to explore it. I went uninvited. People will do that when what's going on is great. So I think what I want to encourage you is pay less attention to marketing than you do to the quality of the experience. If what's going on is great, people will want to be there. They'll sneak in. At school. The way that I know that my class is really working great is that all kinds of students from across campus who aren't enrolled in my class show up by about three weeks in. I start having students who aren't even enrolled in the class just come. I heard this was great. I want to see it. Good groups have growing trust and caring. It's a place where people feel like they get me. There's enough freedom here that I can be who I am. My wife and I started a adult Sunday school class at the church that we attend, which is Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church. We started an adult class about relationships because I teach about relationships, for one thing, but also the observation that we made around church was a whole lot of relationships were an absolute shambles, but people did generally a pretty good job of faking it on Sunday morning. So they come to church and it's all smiles. And how you doing? Just great. Meanwhile, we know it's not just great, but they aren't telling the truth to anybody else because they're afraid they'll be judged or condemned for it, or people will think they're less or less godly or whatever. Right. By the way, you should be really careful about how you talk about God's blessing when it comes to your relationship.

[00:06:50] Because if people get a steady diet of this, our marriage is so healthy and it feels so great, the Lord is really blessing us. Well, is it true that the Lord is blessing him? Absolutely. Here's where you need to be careful, if you would. If you create that equation, then when your marriage is struggling, what are you supposed to conclude about God? It's not right. And that just isn't the way it is. To be careful about how you say it. I'd say, you know, we're struggling and I believe God is in the middle of this, too. Good groups are centered in Christ without Jesus, who is the Christ? You can do some good service. You can have meaningful connections. You won't have the kind of life transformation unless Jesus, who is the Christ and God's Holy Spirit, is part of it. When you start a small group, it's important to think about what type of group are we going to have? Here are some options. Some groups are principally relationship groups. Now, we might have a Bible study as part of it, but really our primary function is relational support and encouragement for one another. For years, my wife and I were part of a group like that. We were all at a life stage with young children and trying to figure out how to be How do I be a good parent? How do I be a good husband and wife in the middle of it? And our group decided principally, our function isn't Bible study. We're trying to relationally support one another and didn't feel an ounce of guilt that we didn't do Bible study every time. That's not what we were about. Some groups are content groups. The primary function is to process content, usually Bible study in a church context.

[00:08:47] In other contexts, it might be a book that you've read together, but the focus of the group is on the content. Sometimes the group is a task group. You exist for the purpose of doing a task outside of your group. Committees are this way. Elders. Boards. Youth Group Support Task Force. Some groups are task groups and some groups are need groups. These groups exist for the purpose of dealing with a shared need to which you're all committed. So be something like AA groups are like this. Divorce support Recovery groups are like this. Now, the truth is, if you think about the groups that you're part of, I doubt very much there will be some exceptions, but most of the time people don't look at that list before and go, Oh, I get it. I'm in a because most of the time they're combination groups. It's how the pieces come together. But even though they're combination groups, doesn't mean that each of those types of groups get equal time or attention or focus. So here are a couple of examples of combination groups you can represented in diagrammatic form like this to say, here's a group that principally is a relationship group in which we do content, but not as much as we do relationship. We occasionally deal with tasks that go on and and sometimes there are needs that we address. But mostly we're a relationship group. You see a combination like that or like this. This is not an unusual combination. Actually, people who came together around a common task developed relational, committed Ms. to one another, and they find themselves in the middle of the task. Also doing relationship work, we ended up on a support team for youth ministry together, but in the middle of it we sort of developed a good relationship.

[00:10:54] We care about each other, so I want to care for the relationships too. Here's another combination. Mostly we're a content group. We do spend significant time in relationship, and these two are much less a part of what we do now. Just when I had drawn that third one, I noticed that all of my diagrams had all four types, and so I threw one in. That didn't because you know, that combination groups don't always have all four types. You might only have two, or in this case you had three. I am not naive or arrogant enough to believe that everything I say to you is worth writing down. What I'm about to say is this is the truth. One of the absolute fundamental principles of life groups goes like this People support what they're part of creating. People support what they're part of creating. One of the big mistakes that too many churches make is that they rely on leaders to do too much in the groups. And because the leaders do all the work, there's no commitment or buy in from the members because they aren't actually creating anything. People support what they're part of creating. I've mentioned to you several times about the importance of the first 7 to 10 meetings. Here are imperative moves that need to be made. Pray this is you praying before the group actually begins meeting. This is your group deciding what will prayer look like in our group. What place will it play in and how So? A prayer. This is time for you to take appropriate leadership. I used the word appropriate. This doesn't mean heavy handed. It means fulfilling what a leader needs to do early in group life. Now consider this The very first meeting is one of the most important times in group life.

[00:13:07] Here's what you do. You get there. If you're the leader, you get there early. Your job is to prepare the physical space. Your job is to greet people before they come in the room. Don't wait for them to make their way into your living room or wherever you're meeting, you greet them outside and help them come in. When people drive up, I greet them out in the front yard. Man, I'm so glad you're here. I'm really hoping you would be here. And then I walk with them into the living room where my wife or other leaders are there to continue to welcome and encourage them. And I go out and meet more people. Okay. Your job early in the first session and the first two or three meetings is to demonstrate that there is somebody taking care of the details. You see, people will get nervous if they think this has no structure. There's no rhyme or reason to what's going on. Your job is to assure people this isn't you standing in front and saying, Relax, I've got it under control. It's you doing it behaviorally, too, to show them we have a plan there structure to this. People want to be set at ease. People get nervous when they think there's there's no rhyme or reason to what's going on here. So that's part of your job as a leader. Your job is to consider the physical and social environment. What should the chairs or the seating look like in your group meeting? In a teaching setting like this rose function, fine. But if we're a small group, if I'm a small group with say, this half the room, this is not the setup you want. Okay, So probably, probably some kind of circle shape.

[00:14:57] Let people see one another. Pay attention to where the doors are. This. If if this is my living room, I am not as the leader going to be here. Now, do you know why? Because my back's to the door. That's not how I want it. The other thing is, if if I am the leader and say, we had a circle here. But that's the door that people are coming through. Sorry. They're trapped. Exactly. The people here are trapped. And the people who come in late are especially self-conscious because of walking into interrupting the meeting. So what I'll do if if this is my living room, I'm sitting over there and I'm leaving open chairs as much as possible over here so that when people come in, they don't have to walk across the group to be seated. They're not embarrassed and the group is disrupted. Okay. Now, there's a really famous communication theorist whose name is Edward Hall, who whose research was the relationship between proxy mics, which is about physical space and communication. And what he discovered is different distances between people invited those people to communicate differently. So the space from 12 to 15 feet is a public space that invites more of a didactic one way from me to you communication. When you close that space to eight feet, the kind of communication we have is more interpersonal. When you close it to four feet, now you're getting more intimate. So earlier today, when Graham said, you know, it felt like we were around a campfire, people were close enough to one another to feel like there was some relational connection. Right. And Edward Hall tells you it affects the way that people communicate. To give some thought to that. If you've got a big living room and a smaller group, don't let the physical space disrupt the relational intimacy.

[00:17:18] Pull it in as much as you need to to get people about three or four feet away from each other. Your job early in group life in the first 7 to 10 meetings is to facilitate the building of relationships. What can we do to get people relationally connected to one another? People need clarity about the organizational and administrative details. Where are we meeting? How often? Who's leading? What do I need to be prepared for at the meeting? Your job is to clarify those kinds of logistics. Okay. Productive patterns during the first meeting. Here is. Here's another truth that deserves to be written down. The behavior you want to sustain. Make sure you enact the first time, the behavior you want to sustain. Be sure you enact the first time. So the very first time the group is together. I'm consciously thinking about patterns of behavior that I want to maintain across the life of our group. Here's an example. One big issue for me is I want to hear everybody's voice during every session. Now I get just a moment. I get that not everybody will participate in exactly the same way. I get that. But I want everybody contributing somehow in that meeting. So what I do the first time is set something up that invites everybody to participate. Then at the end of the meeting, I say something like, What have you been led to expect based on what's happened here tonight? And they go, Well, we all talked, right? Everybody's a participant. If what you want is people to be actively involved, do something active with them the first time.