Create and Maintain Caring Small Groups
A small group Bible Study should know the excitement of finding God’s hidden treasures. But if it becomes a purely academic exercises akin to a higher mathematics class in differential equations taught by a boring teacher, the group may become ineffective and short-lived. The point of Bible Study is not to display intellectual prowess, but to develop a relationship with the eternal God and His children. If you are not fostering a loving, caring relationship among Bible Study group members, you missed the point entirely.
Tools for Building Effective Small Groups
Here are some tools to help group leaders and members create and maintain caring small groups:
- Be good listeners
- Build and maintain healthy boundaries
- Develop a Group Covenant
- Keep it simple
- Pray for one another
- Empower group members
- Challenge group members
Be good listeners
One of the things we most need in life is a sympathetic voice to listen to us. Small group leaders must resist the temptation to be condescending, preaching down to their “subordinates”. Christ came to earth as a humble servant. While he held firmly to the truth and admonished those who erred from the truth, His demeanor with folks was always gentle and loving. The leader must set the example of being a good listener, or the group will become more of a spectator sport, with the leader and one or two extroverts monopolizing the session.
Build and maintain healthy boundaries
Boundaries are an essential component to life, and probably an area in which all of us can improve. In there simplest form, group boundaries can include start and finish times, dress, types of refreshments, topics of study, age range for group members, etc. More challenging are the boundaries to be established in interpersonal relationships. There are some who are takers, and in the context of the small group, can spend so much time expressing their opinions that few others can participate in the discussion. The group leader must maintain control of group discussion and ensure each member can equally participate. Leaders and members must also set boundaries that do not allow particularly needy members to latch onto others’s for their time, attention, money, affection, etc. Such individuals may well need counselling from the pastor or a professional counselor. An excellent book on this topic is Boundaries – When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Cloud, Townsend, Zondervan Press).
Develop a Group Covenant
On the topic of boundaries, it may be appropriate for the group to establish a covenant, whether by simple agreement or a more formal written charter. The group covenant defines the purpose of the group, limitations (e.g., age ranges, topics of study), meeting times and locations, limits on types and quantity of refreshments, dress code, doctrinal positions, means of selecting topics of study, and so on. This may be more important for workplace Bible Studies where employers could be inclined to prohibit such meetings if there is strong opposition from other groups. Establishing a written charter that the employer can agree to up front can help preclude subsequent problems. For example, a workplace Bible Study agreement could state that the group will not employ loud music, clapping, raucous laughter, or other conduct that would disturbs others in the workplace. But if the employer places limits on what can or cannot be taught, an “off-campus” location may be a better alternative.
Keep it simple
The purpose of small group Bible studies is not to enable members to earn a Master of Divinity degree. A Bible Study group can quickly die off if it becomes overly academic and dry or, conversely, focuses on controversial subjects. There are many excellent Bible study resources that will ensure the group is studying interesting, relevant topics that enable all group members to participate. Allowing group members to come to a consensus on topics of study and study resources to be used to ensure an interest in the course of study. But keeping it simple can also apply to dress code, Bible Study resources, and even refreshments. Keeping it simple in those areas will ensure you are being sensitive to the finances of less fortunate group members.
Pray for one another
An important commitment of the group leader is to pray for group members. An equally important commitment of group members is to pray for the leader and for one another. Much has already been written about prayer in the “Pray” portion of this web site. Apply those principles of prayer to your group and watch how God will mightily bless the group’s influence and outreach!
Empower group members
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20There is a tendency to assign small group leadership to those who are leaders in the workplace. These may in turn feel that their assigned position of group leadership is meant to be held in perpetuity. It is critical that Bible Study group leaders be those who have the Bible knowledge and spiritual maturity to do so. It is, in turn, the Bible Study leader’s responsibility to make disciples, teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded us. One of the best ways of empowering group members and by allowing them to lead the Bible Study under the guidance of the group leader. Hearkening back my military experience, military training not only relies on small group instruction, but in giving training and leadership opportunities to all soldiers. You learn best, not by listening, but by doing and by teaching others. Utilize that hands-on-training with your group members and you will find members will be much more active, involved and attentive.
Challenge group members
Finally, as has been stated repeatedly in various ways, a Bible Study group should not be a spectator sport. Members should be encouraged to actively participate in discussions and even in leading the group study. But it is particularly important for Bible Study group leaders challenge their group members to apply what they are learning. Only dead fish go with the flow, but the Christian is called to swim against the tide of worldly thoughts, speech, and conduct. The negative influence of this world and the powers of darkness are strong. But our God is infinitely stronger, so…
…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25
- 101 Great Ideas to Create a Caring Group (Corrigan, NavPress)
- How to Lead Small Groups (McBride, NavPress)
- Seven Tools for Building Effective Groups (Arnold, NavPress)
- Boundaries – When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Cloud, Townsend, Zondervan Press)