If you want to grow, why can’t you just go to a Sunday school class and learn theology? Why do you have to let other people get all up in your business?
Faith is personal, but that doesn't mean faith is private. That distinction is important because spiritual growth doesn't happen in isolation.
Most groups have at least one or two members who consistently show up late. I’m not talking about the person who unexpectedly runs into a five-car pile-up on the way to group or who gets called into an emergency meeting at work as she's about to head home. I'm not talking about the parent whose babysitter cancels at the last minute, forcing him to scramble to find a backup. I'm talking about the folks who are perpetually late for no good reason at all. What do you do about group members who are chronically late?
A lot of times, the chronically late are unaware that their lateness affects the group dynamic. You have the privilege—yes, it's a privilege—of letting chronically late group members know how their actions are potentially perceived by others. It probably won't be an easy conversation, but it may help them grow by making them aware of a personal blind spot.
Chronic lateness can communicate that a person:
- Thinks social time is a waste of time
- Isn't interested in what’s going on in others' lives
- Believes his or her time is more valuable than others'
- Is disorganized
- Doesn't think group is important
- Has too little margin in his or her schedule because of an inability to set healthy boundaries
None of those things may be true, but it's how other group members probably feel. And if they feel that way, it will affect the group dynamic. It will make it difficult for you to create environments where people can grow closer to one another as they follow Jesus.
So, have an offline conversation with the group member who is always late. Approach the conversation prayerfully. It's probably a good idea not to initiate the talk until you've gotten to the place where you can put aside most of your own annoyance and speak with the other person's best interests at heart.
Let your group member know that you've noticed a pattern and don't want his or her behavior to be misinterpreted by others in the group. Reinforce why it's important to arrive on time. Listen to what the group member has to say—maybe there's a short-term or long-term event unfolding in his or her life that requires adjusting the group's schedule (with everyone else's buy-in) or setting some new expectations for the other group members.
Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all conversation for chronically late group members. Just remember that your goal is to understand the group member's perspective and extend grace, but also to set the kind of expectations that maintain a healthy group dynamic and benefit every member of the group.
Leading people means you're going to have to have tough conversations from time to time. It's just part of the deal. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, but it is what it is . . . and what it is is one of the most difficult aspects of leading.
A little over a year ago, Sue Bates provided some great practical advice on navigating uncomfortable conversations, but I thought it was probably time to revisit the topic. So, I poked around the web and found a trio of great articles:
- How to Give Constructive Criticism: 10 Tips for Successful Coaching from the Modern Servant Leader blog
- Tips on Having Difficult Conversations from Harvard Business Review
- 5 Strategies for Tackling Tough Conversations by Scott McDowell at 99u
What additional advice would you give a leader faced with having to initiate a tough conversation with a group member?
Have you ever had one of those Community Group experiences where, during prayer time, people scramble to come up with "safe" prayer requests? You know, the kind of requests that avoid revealing what's really going on in their lives. Have you ever been asked to pray for someone's aunt's friend's cat?
Here are five simple things you can do to avoid that kind of experience in your group.
- Cultivate your own prayer life. If you're not praying regularly—for your group members and for yourself—you're going to have a hard time being vulnerable in your own requests. And if you're not vulnerable, there's a good chance no one else in your group will be vulnerable.
- Follow up on prayer requests. Asking for updates on requests from previous weeks communicates that you are praying for your group members. If your group members know you care, they'll take prayer time more seriously.
- Begin prayer time with a question that provides some direction. Ask your group members something like, "What's been weighing on your heart lately?" or "What have you been praying about today?" You're not likely to get a cat request in response to a question like that.
- Set a standard. It's okay to tell your group in a diplomatic way that you will never ask them to pray for something or someone you aren't praying for and that you ask the same of them. If this is the standard in your group, it tends to weed out this-is-all-I-can-think-of-at-the-moment prayer requests.
- Divide and conquer. If you lead a married group, separate out by gender for prayer time. There are just some things people don't want to talk about in front of others' spouses. You don't have to separate every time you pray, but doing so once or twice a month is a good way to increase the openness and accountability in your group.
So, don't let your group get stuck in a cycle of shallow prayers and no real accountability. If you feel things sliding in that direction, take action sooner rather than later in order to get things back on the right track.
What other things do you do to increase the quality of the prayer times in your group?