If you're intentional about it, December can be one of the best times of the year to build relationships in your group.
Asking great questions is one of the most useful skills you can add to your leadership toolbox. It's both strategically smart and relationally powerful.
Using launching, clarifying, and following-up questions requires intentionality and a little practice.
The ability to ask good questions is key for any leader. Unfortunately, it doesn't come naturally for most of us. It's a skill we have to develop over time.
The New Testament records 183 questions that people asked Jesus. He gave a direct answer to three of those questions, but he asked 307 clarifying or redirecting questions in response. Our takeaway: One well-placed question is better than ten good answers. Asking great questions is a skill every leader should work on developing over time.
Why ask questions? Great questions meet people where they are in their faith journeys. Instead of just providing people with easy (and too often trite) answers, great questions help them to own their faith. Questions encourage people to think for themselves. That self-directed shift in thinking has a higher probability of influencing future behavior. In other words, it has a higher probability of helping people grow.
What makes a great question? Curiosity is the secret ingredient of great question-asking. A leader should be genuinely curious about what’s going on in the lives of his or her group members and what those group members have to say.
Great questions aren't judging. They don’t presume an answer. They’re asked in a spirit of learning. They build empathy.
What makes a great question asker? The most effective leaders are full of conversations, not answers. They're humble, satisfied with delayed credit (or no credit at all), generous, concerned with others, curious, and empathetic. Great leaders ask great questions and continually strive to be better at asking great questions.
I don't know about you, but I'm better at asking questions than I used to be but not as good as I want to be. Improving is hard work, but it's worth the effort.
The Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s window is always an interesting time in the life of your small group. It rarely makes sense to start a new curriculum after mid-November, because you’re unlikely to finish it before your group breaks for Christmas. But you don’t want your group to limp into the end of the year. If you're intentional about it, December can actually be one of the best times of the year to build your group’s sense of community and and purpose. Here are four ideas for finishing the year well: Serve together. There is no time of the year that people are more inclined to serve those in need than around the holidays. Whether you adopt a family for Christmas, leverage a Be Rich service opportunity, or create your own service project, look for an opportunity to serve together. Serving together is a bonding experience that creates lasting memories, and it also provides you with an opportunity to focus on your Influence with Outsiders.
Be social. We say “Merry” Christmas and “Happy” Holidays for a reason. Whether you go catch a Christmas concert together, host an Ugly Sweater Party, or go ice skating at the park, December is a great time to have fun together.
Share communion. Christmas is a time for tradition and remembrance. There is perhaps no older tradition within the body of Christ than sharing communion together—and this is something you can do with your group. Don’t worry, we have suggestions on how to lead through this.
Look back and celebrate. As the year comes to a close, take a night to reflect back together on what God has done in the lives of your group members over the past year. Pro tip: as the group leader, you might want to come with some ready examples for each person/couple, already in your pocket. What prayers have you seen answered? What steps have you seen people take? What life change have you witnessed?
Get creative. Maybe combine two ideas to make one special night. But whether you’re wrapping up your first semester together, or winding down the end of your group’s life cycle, but don’t miss the opportunity to close out the year on a high note!
The leader's main role is to create an environment—both physical and relational—where people have the opportunity to connect with one another and grow closer to God.
Are you comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know?”
I’m not … but I’m learning to familiarize myself quickly. Luckily, leading a growing organization provides many opportunities to practice!
I used to avoid this statement like I avoided waking up for my 8am Art History class in college (I never went!). I’m becoming more comfortable today, though. It’s not that I know less today than a few years ago. At some point my age may cause that to be true. Rather, I’m just becoming more comfortable accepting and acknowledging what “I don’t know.”
Here is the problem. When I was a younger leader, I assumed admitting my lack of insight would undermine my leadership influence. I wanted to be seen as a thought leader. I wanted the promotion. I wanted the next opportunity. And I believed the path to the leadership promise land was paved by answers, expertise, and confidence.
Unfortunately, pretending to know all the answers led me to over-promise and under-deliver. In case you don’t know, that’s NOT the best method to promotions and opportunities.
Gavin goes on to explore five positive things saying "I don't know" actually communicates to the people we lead. It's well worth hopping over to his site to check it out.
Got ten minutes for some leadership tips? Check out this excellent podcast by Jeremy Beeler and Allison Holley, Groups Directors at Buckhead Church.
Jeremy and Allison recorded this segment for the Married Leaders podcast but their advice is so universal, I thought it would be great for leaders of any kinds of groups to hear. It's well worth 10 minutes of your time (that's a mere 1/144th of your day).
Married Leader Podcast—January, 2014
The key takeaway from the conversation is to ask yourself this question:
If we took away your role as a facilitator, what roles are you still playing in the lives of your group members?
Earlier this week, I wrote about what constitutes a "safe environment." It's all about people finding the freedom to be vulnerable with one another because you can't really grow until you start getting real. But what do you do if you're group is already "unsafe"? How do you turn things around when group members are already wary of being transparent?
Here are four approaches you can take:
- Take personal responsibility and ownership. As you take a look at your group environment to assess why it's unsafe, don't assume it's someone else's fault. Look at yourself first. Is there anything you are doing to hamper connection and growth in your group? Self-examination isn't easy, but it is what leaders are called to do.
- Determine whether it's a general group issue or only involves one or two members. Once you've assessed your role in the lack of safety in your group, consider whether and how many group members are also contributing to the problem. If it's just one or two group members, have a conversation with that person or those people. Pray . . . a lot, so you are able to enter into these conversations with your heart in the right place.
- Talk about it openly with the group. Don't throw particular group members under the bus, but have a conversation about where the group is and where it needs to be. You can't ignore an unsafe environment and hope it will fix itself. It won't. Acknowledging that there's a problem may give your group members the permission and the patience to begin to resolve the problem . . . together. You probably won't be able to fix things on your own without the help and cooperation of your group members.
- Revisit the vision. Take some time during a meeting to review the Group Agreement. This is a great way to reset everyone's expectations and initiate a discussion about the ways that what you're currently experiencing differ from what you agreed to at the outset of the group experience.
If your group has drifted into "unsafe" territory, all is not lost. It'll take some effort and probably require some uncomfortable conversations, but you can get things back on track. The key is to be honest with yourself and honest with your group members about what is happening.
What approaches have you taken to ensure that you're creating a safe environment for your group members?
We talk a lot about how a safe environment paves the way to community. It's essential for building connection. But what does it mean for an environment to be safe?
People who don't feel safe shut themselves off from what the Holy Spirit might do in their lives through the group. In a safe environment, there are no obstacles and distractions to get in the way of the Spirit's work. A safe environment is irresistible. We all crave acceptance and naturally gravitate towards the people and places where we feel it. And safe environments are full of acceptance.
You have an opportunity to create an environment in your group that makes it a brightly lit place in a dark and often unsafe world. Imagine if your group was a place where your group members could:
- Let down their guard
- Feel free to talk about what's going on in their lives without fear of judgment or criticism
- Be vulnerable
- Feel valued and accepted
That kind of environment nurtures the sort of tight community that leads to spiritual growth.
In my next post, I'll talk about some things you can do to set things right when your group has become an unsafe environment. Check back later this week.
We all want to lead our groups successfully, right? We all want to be in on what God is doing to change and grow others. But we worry sometimes about blowing it. Or maybe we're tempted to be too confident in our skills and training as leaders.
In the provocatively titled "9 Statements That Will Destroy Your Group," Ben Reed runs through a list of things you shouldn't say to your group or to yourself about your leadership.
Ben is a small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church. Here's an excerpt from his article:
There’s a certain amount of your group’s success that you can’t control. God’s going to choose to bless or not. He’s going to sovereignly inspire group members to engage…or not. His hand of favor will be there…or not.
But there are statements you can make, personally, that will inevitably tank your group. That will guarantee you’ll get nothing out of it, and that you’ll create a terrible experience for the rest of your group. Statements that will destroy community rather than foster it.
I wish I could claim innocence, but during certain phases of my leadership I've definitely said (or at least thought) 1, 2, 3, 4, and probably 9. What about you?
Let's say you're leading a new group. You're just a couple months in and still getting to know your group members. During a group discussion about faith, one of them opens up: "For me, faith is about following what you believe. I don't think it really matters whether or not you have faith in God, Buddha, or Muhammad. I mean, I've met some really sincere people, some really good people, who were of the Bahá'í faith, and it worked for them. They were great people."
All eyes are on you. On the one hand, you don't want to leave error unaddressed. On the other hand, you don't want to shut down conversation. More important, you don't want to shut down relationships. So, what do you do?
Deciding how to respond in a situation like that is more art than science. A lot depends on the nature of the discussion and the relationships among the people in the group. But here are four things to consider when dealing with bad theology:
- You don't have to close the deal. People don't drop worldviews they've accumulated over the course of a lifetime as a result of a single discussion in group. Don't feel like you have to move them from a -5 to a +10 on the faith continuum in one eloquent and polished answer. That's not even your job. Only the Holy Spirit can change people's lives. You're there to partner with the Spirit, but life change is his responsibility . . . and he seems content to refine each of us over time, not all at once. The beauty of God's grace and our salvation through Jesus is that they give us some room to be wrong about a lot things as we grow in our relationship with God.
- Validate the person. Let the person know that you appreciate his or her point of view. Say something like, "I can see where you're coming from on that." This doesn't mean you're validating his or her statement. But by communicating understanding, you minimize the defensiveness that flows from having beliefs challenged.
- Ask clarifying questions.
Don't be quick to offer answers or rebuttals. Instead, ask clarifying questions. It demonstrates an interest in what is important to the person, reveals more about where he or she stands, and leads him or her to self-discovery. Here are some examples of good clarifying questions:
- "Of the faiths that you know about, which one appeals to you the most, and why?"
- "From what you know about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, do your think those belief systems view themselves as all the same? Why do you think they see themselves so differently?"
- "What have you experienced that led you to view all religions as being basically the same?"
- Draw the group back to Scripture. Pointing the discussion to Scripture re-orients the conversation away from a "what I believe" versus "what you believe" argument. It reinforces the idea that the Bible (not you) is the authority for matters of faith. It encourages group members to make mental connections between biblical truth and what they believe.
How have you navigated error in group discussion? How have you done it well and how have you done it not-so-well?
You're there to facilitate . . . to make conversations easier. That means that your primary job is to clear any obstacles to helpful discussion and encourage your group members' growth.