Don't Let Summer Frustrate You, Part 1

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This month we're exploring the challenges of leading groups during the summertime, when life is jam-packed with holidays, vacations, and children's activities.

During the first couple groups my wife and I led, summertime was a major source heartburn. When we sat down with our group members in May to look at our calendars and make plans, everyone was gung-ho to continue meeting and working through a study during the summer months. By the time June landed, their previous enthusiasm wasn't reflected in their attendance. It was common for only two or three couples to be available on any given group night.

To say that my wife and I were frustrated is an understatement. The fact that we'd bent our schedules to accommodate group meetings when no one else had stirred up a whole host of emotions—none of them all that positive. But the first thing we had to come to grips with is that the enthusiasm our group members had expressed back in May was genuine. They just weren't able to recognize at the time (and neither were we) how that enthusiasm translated into an unrealistic plan. It was up to us, as their leaders, to show them some grace and adjust our strategy in the future.

Little League games, birthday parties, and vacations take their toll on group members' availability during summer months. That's just the way it is. So, as my wife and I have become more seasoned leaders, we've made summertime scheduling a little less democratic. It's not that we don't give group members a voice. It's not that we don't appreciate their enthusiasm and their desire to remain connected to the group (in fact, we love to see those qualities in group members). It's that we've come to understand an important principle about leading other adults:

It's not our job to coax, cajole, or guilt people into showing up for group every week during the summer. It's our job to help our group members set reasonable expectations and agree to a schedule that doesn't leave them (or us) feeling frustrated or disheartened.

So, we have a frank conversation with our groups about the challenges of meeting during the summer. We lay everything out on the table. And we recommend a course of action based on our experience as leaders. In other words, we lead the group members in such a way that it helps them to come to an informed decision about how to handle summertime group meetings. It's not about guilt. It's definitely not about manipulation. It's about everyone taking an honest look at his or her summer calendar and then coming to an agreement about what will work best for the whole group.

What does that look like? Well, mileage varies. We've found that meeting more than twice a month just isn't realistic for the kinds of groups we lead (married couples with elementary and middle school aged children). In many of our groups, we've met only once a month. In those instances we didn't bother with a study because the less frequent contact with one another meant that we wanted to spend our meetings catching up, doing something fun, and finding out how we could pray for one another.

You may have a group that can meet more often and that has time to finish the reading and homework that a study demands. That's great. Plan accordingly. The important thing is that you establish an achievable goal for group meetings. If you set the bar too high, your group members will be frustrated . . . and so will you.

Come back on Wednesday for the second part of this post. In it, I'll talk about how you can leverage one of the 8 Leader Essentials to avoid summertime frustration.

In your past groups, how have you decided how often your group will meet during the summertime and what you'll do during your meetings?