Learning to Lead a Small Group - Lesson 4

Contracting with Your Small Group

Crafting a mutually understood set of expectations about the purpose of your group and how you intend to accomplish that purpose is essential for people to know as they consider joining the group and as you structure and manage the interaction when you meet as a group. One important aspect of small group life is what Dr. Pyle describes as the, "grocery store" principle. Also, people support and participate in something that they perceive themselves as part of creating. 

Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Lesson 4
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Contracting with Your Small Group

I. The Importance of Contracting in Small Groups

A. Establishing Expectations

B. Enhancing Group Dynamics

II. Components of a Small Group Contract

A. Purpose and Goals

B. Group Size and Composition

C. Meeting Frequency, Duration, and Location

D. Confidentiality and Trust

E. Attendance and Participation

F. Conflict Resolution

III. Developing and Implementing the Contract

A. Collaborative Process

B. Review and Revision

C. Accountability and Enforcement

  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? What does the Bible have to say about the importance of small groups and what participation should look like?

  • 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
Contracting With Your Small Group
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:03] Contracting COVID 19 is one of the most important things that happens in group life, because without it, here's what happens. People go, Hey, you know, some of us were thinking about having a small group. Do you want to be part of it? Well, everybody's got expectations, just that nobody knows what those expectations are yet. So somebody shows up and discovers this isn't at all what I had in mind. When you said small group, I thought you meant we're going to share life with one another. You're bringing up the Bible, and that's kind of freaking me out. Or somebody says, You said small group. I knew I took that to mean Bible study. And now you're being all relationally. I don't want to go there. I want to study the Bible. But now the problem is how do you exit? Unless you've done a good job with covenant or contracting, you open the way for all kinds of unnecessary guilt. Look, one beauty of covenant in contracting is what I call the grocery store principle. I want to live in group life in such a way that at any point in group life, I can see somebody from the group in the vegetable aisle at the grocery store. And neither of us wants to run the other way. Now I'm going to teach you some very specific pragmatic ways to avoid that. These don't come in any particular order. They are important aspects of coveting or contracting. This will happen usually in the first, second or even third meeting that you have crafting a mutually understood set of expectations about what we're trying to do. Here's a pretty good question What kind of a group are we going to have? Relationship content task. Need some kind of combination? Will the group be open or closed? Open groups have continually opened membership.

[00:02:04] People can join these groups at any point. Closed groups have a closed membership where they aren't accepting new people into the group, at least for now. Well, first, let's talk about this. Tell me about advantages as you see them of open groups. Gives people the opportunity to bring somebody that's not yet a believer to a group. Exactly. What a great opportunity for a kind of evangelism. Now, just as there are benefits to open groups, they're also liabilities. It's really hard to build relational intimacy if the group is continually changing. So early in group life, we get to know one another. We do relationship building, we tell some life stories, and the next week a new person's here. What are you going to do, rehearse all that again? That gets difficult for some people. The trust level goes down with open groups because I don't know yet if I can trust you. So there are liabilities. There are benefits to closed groups too, like. Yeah, sustained relationships, building trust, intimacy, all that. And what's the downside? You've got the threat of being perceived as unwelcoming. New people come into the life of the church and want to know where can I fit? And they're continually being told, Sorry, these groups are closed. That's a hard message to receive if you're looking for a place to land. Okay. Now, for all these reasons, what some groups do is a combination. So they have open membership for the first two or three weeks. Then they ask people to commit for a period of time, say eight weeks at the end of eight weeks. We might decide to continue. We might decide to finish this group. We might decide to open it up and bring new people in. And in my experience, at least something like that combination tends to work best.

[00:04:07] So now the question is, well, what about time? How frequently should our group meet? It depends. 85% of the questions. The answer is it depends on what the purpose of your group is, what you're trying to achieve, the makeup of the group. Now, you can imagine that there are benefits and liabilities to each of these as well. One liability to every other week is if you miss one, it's a month. Lots of people will find that not very satisfying. One liability to every week is what if I can't be there every week and I really ready to make that kind of commitment? So you'll have to figure that out with your groups. How long should the meetings be? Half hour. An hour, hour and a half. Depends on what you're trying to do. If you have a combination group that's going to include relational sharing, content, Bible study, prayer, how much time do you need? You should think in terms of probably not less than an hour and a half. Again, it's going to depend a lot on the size of your group. I should probably tell you this. How big your group is has profound implications for what your group can look like. Most of the small group experts define a small group as a group of between three and 12 people. 15 might be doable. That's stretching the outer limit. If you get more than that, if you've got 20 people in your small group and you want to do sharing in which each person has 5 minutes. That's an hour and a half just to get caught up with each other. 5 minutes is not all that much time. Okay. Always begin with the end in mind. Always begin with the end in mind.

[00:06:27] I don't use words like always and never very much. This time I did always begin with the end in mind. Never invite somebody to a group without naming the endpoint. So what you say is we're thinking about having a small group that does a combination of relationship, connection and review of the sermon notes and and processing biblical content. No obligation at all to come the first time and just see what we're about. Nobody's going to be obligated after two or three weeks, we are going to ask people to make a commitment for eight weeks at the end of eight weeks. We're going to do an assessment and see how it went. And was it rich for us at that point? If you decide it's not for you. Great. No problem. Do you remember the grocery store principle? This is one of the ways you achieve it. If you don't name an end point, people will feel like they've committed to something now and forever. Therefore, leaving the group feels like betrayal and for leaders feels like failure. You don't have to subject yourself to that. Okay. When it comes to time, there are official and unofficial starting times. The official time is the time that you told people. 7:00. The unofficial time is when you actually start. If you tell people seven and they straggle in at five after seven or ten after seven, and then you begin what you've just told them is we start at ten after seven. Then they struggle in at 15, after seven. And if you wait and start at 715, you've just told them, No, actually we start at 715. There will be creep when you do the contracting with your group. What you say is are you prepared to commit to beginning at seven? Then if you're the leader, you start at seven.

[00:08:26] I don't care if there are two people there. You start at seven. Then when people come late, they get the message. This started at seven and I'm late. Thank you. On the other end. Yeah, well, you. Yeah, just. No, I get it. Just as you start at seven, if your group decided we're going to end at 830, you finish at 830. Yeah. Now you can. You can say to people, I want to respect your time. We're all busy, and it's important that we keep our commitments. 830 is when we're finished. Now, you as the leader, you can decide. Look, if you want to stay around and talk more, I'll be available to you. You can do that. But everybody in the group knows we're done at 830. And when they need at that point, you should say, look, you're you're free to go, okay. Where do you hold the meeting restaurant? Not such a good choice usually, unless you can get a private room somewhere that could work. Yeah, it depends. Here's a generalized hint. If I'm the leader, I try not to have the meeting at my house. And that might surprise some of you. Here's why people support where they're part of creating. So I want to bring more people in to the creation process. The other thing about having it somewhere else is I'm not going to be the one in charge of preparing the snacks and all that stuff like I would at my house. I'm free to do this stuff I should be doing as a leader. So let somebody else contribute to the development of the group by giving them responsibility like that. Now, that said, I've had lots of small groups at my house. I'm not saying it's a forever principle.

[00:10:20] I'm saying it's something for you to think about. So how are we going to build relationships? We're going to have prayer partners. Are we going to meet with one another to encourage each other relationally outside of the group? Sometime this week your group will make decisions about issues like that. When it comes to the Scripture, whether the Bible will be used in our group, and if so, how is part of what you want to talk about with contracting? What part will prayer play? Lots of times, Christian. Small groups at least will tell you. Yeah, we want prayer to be part of it. Where does it usually go at the end? So what usually happens? Yeah, not so much time. It gets truncated because we took too much time doing other things. So one thing you might consider is where you place the prayer component in the scheme of your group. If it's really a priority for you, what have you started with it? What if you did some relational sharing and then you did prayer and then you did content? Something to think about. Here is a big, big issue. The question is intensity. What level of commitment and what work do we want to do in this group? It's very, very typical early in group life for groups to tell you they're prepared for a level of intensity that they aren't actually prepared to live out. So they'll say things the first couple of times you meet with a group, if you're doing Bible study, for example, they'll say things like, No, we got to dive deep into God's Word and we believe in and, you know, thirsting after God. So what we're going to do is give us homework. We'll we'll research the Bible passages before we come back to group, give us questions.

[00:12:23] We'll answer the questions. And that all sounds great. Unfortunately, you invite a lot of unnecessary guilt by agreeing to an intensity level that people aren't actually prepared to live with. When I lead small groups with college students early in the semester, they will tell you they're all set for all kinds of intensity and all the stuff they want to commit to. And usually what I say is, you know, it's September and your classes aren't a heavy load yet. It feels like you've got time. Now think about what happens when it's November. And you're just treading water to try to keep your head above your workload. Is this really what you want? A smart leader will help groups make reasonable decisions when it comes to intensity. Be careful about letting your group make commitments that will only engender guilt because when they don't do the homework, when they don't do the questions, when they don't do the Bible study A, they might not come back because they don't want to be embarrassed. And B, if they come back, they feel like they're inadequate. And I didn't do my preparation. So be careful about what you invite people to be committed to. What kind of leadership will we have? Is it rotating leadership or is there a set designated leader? People support what they're part of. Creating. Shared leadership can work. If you are the designated leader and your group opts for shared leadership, you need to be prepared for some frustration because delegating and sharing necessarily means there are times that people are going to do it not in exactly the way you would have or perhaps even as well as you would have. You just need to be prepared for that. Now, there are benefits to shared leadership as well.

[00:14:31] Oh, another word about leadership. If you're the designated leader, whatever you do, don't call the group your group. I'm prone to this because I'm faculty at a university where I lead small groups with college students. I never let them call it Ron's group. Because it's not. It's what we're making together. So we give it some other name and sometimes they want crazy name for it. It's okay, but give it some other name. So you're going to process. All right, who's willing to take responsibility? Maybe the group wants a kind of shared leadership. Okay. You also should be prepared to do some mentoring and coaching for people to help them understand how do I lead. So what I do and I'll do this with college students too. Oh, yeah. So when we get together, these college students in me, I will say, you know what? I've been following Christ for 40 years. Most of you haven't. I get that I'm older than you are, but this isn't my group, and I'm not the answer, man. I'm not going to jump to provide an answer to every bit of conversation we have. I'm going to join you and be part of what we're doing. I won't be the only leader. There are times that you might want to do it. When you do, I'll be happy to help you think about leading, and I'll help you through that process. But it's not my group. I'll ask the group members some questions like this. I think we ought to have a same sex group or mixed sex. Do you like a lot of structure or does it seem to work better for you? Generally, if the structure is a little looser, that'll help you know about how to plan.

[00:16:34] I ask a question like, How comfortable are you with disclosure? Hi, disclosure, or is that really too risky for you? Okay, here's some group commitments to give attention to What's going to be your policy about attendance. Is it okay to miss meetings? This will be a shared commitment that your group is going to make. This is hear me clearly. It's not you imposing the group commitment. It's them together with you deciding, Here's our here's what we're going to do about attendance. This is really important because later on, if there are attendance issues, it's not you being the bad guy to say, Hey, why aren't you coming to group? It's your group doing some assessment to say, Here's a commitment we made. How are we doing? Look, there's a there's a parenting principle here, too. Just a quick aside. If you've got children who are, you know, say, eight to adulthood, one of the best things you can do is get them to confess who they want to be. Not you telling them who they're going to be. Them confess who they want to be. So I sit down with the kids and I say, Hey, what kind of person do you want to be? Would you write some things down about the qualities of life that you want to mark your life? What do you want to stand for? What kind of reputation do you want to have? What's important to you? What kind of values do you want to have when they do that? Then when it comes to parenting, I come alongside them and say, How are you doing at being who you said you want to be? This isn't me lowering the boom on them to say, Stop it. It's me coming alongside to say I want you to grow into this person, too.

[00:18:29] How's it going? Okay, so the commitment comes from them. Your group will make a decision about the level of confidentiality in your group. Confidentiality is awfully important to provide a base of trust and confidence out of which people can disclose. There are a couple of provisos. When I lead groups, at least I say if we decide that confidentiality is the rule, it will be the rule that what's shared here doesn't go anyplace else, not even to my spouse. Except. Except when there are times that I end up concerned or afraid for your physical or spiritual well-being, especially the physical well-being. Then I need to tell somebody who can give you help. Okay. Maybe the life space that I occupy with college students makes this especially appropriate because there are times that students tell me things that I know my responsibilities to get them some kind of professional help. At that point, they need to know, I'm going to tell somebody I have the groups that I'm part of leading. We make group agreements about honesty. Tell us the truth, and when you do, you're not going to get punished and condemned for it. But tell us the truth. We have we have conversations about accountability. How will we hold one another accountable? What would that look like? Here's the big issue and a principle of human communication. Unsolicited advice is almost always received as criticism. Unsolicited advice is almost always received as criticism. So one of the group policies you can have is we will resist the urge to give you advice unless you ask for it. Because what you don't need much of the time is to share something that's bothering you that you're struggling with and have other people come back with easy pat advice about what you should do.

[00:21:03] Because a good deal of the time I don't really want to be fixed. What I need is somebody to empathize, to come alongside, to support and encourage me. If I if I'm looking for solutions or answers, I can ask you for those. So as a policy, that principle seems to make sense. The thing about outside activities is your group deciding, are we going to do things outside of our weekly or every other weekly meeting? Are we going to serve at a soup kitchen? Are we going to do cleanup around the church or, you know, outside activities? Here's one thing I will say about outside activities. When it comes to relationship development, you will get farther in relationship development in one weekend away than you will in six months of meeting every week.