Batman and Robin, Bo and Luke Duke, Bert and Ernie, pastors and home group leaders …
Okay, that analogy fell apart—fast. But the point is that in many churches, pastors and home group leaders share care ministry responsibilities. Home group leaders coordinate care for members and notify their pastors when a member’s needs require additional pastoral care.
But sometimes home group leaders make mistakes when facilitating the group that can cause members to feel the group is not meeting their needs: they may not feel heard, or they may not feel comfortable, for example. When that happens, participants may not share their struggles and burdens, and you may end up unaware of critical care needs—until the situation is unmanageable.You can make your partners in this ministry more effective by helping them correct these common mistakes of home group leaders. Here are a few of the most common ones, along with suggested ways you can coach your leaders to fix them.
You may end up unaware of critical care needs—until the situation is unmanageable.
6 mistakes home group leaders make
1. Neglecting to share clear group guidelines
What happens? The leader doesn’t share clear guidelines with the group, so participants are unsure of what’s expected of them. No one is clear on how sensitive issues are handled. Plus, people may have unrealistic expectations of what the group is designed to do, and they are prone to be disappointed with the leader and possibly the church.
Here’s how to fix it: Leaders should have a list of group guidelines that lets members know the purpose of the group, what’s expected of participants, and how certain occurrences will be handled. This keeps groups from developing unhealthy habits such as members cutting one another off when they’re speaking.
You can create the guidelines or have your leaders create them and submit them to you for approval. It’s also important to remind your leaders to restate the guidelines on a regular basis. This helps the group remember them and may lessen the need to confront someone privately about unhealthy behavior. It’s also a good idea to restate the guidelines when visitors sit in on the group. Participants need to know whether they’re encouraged to talk directly to the leader, for example, or if they can ask questions of one another. Are the leaders the only ones who can ask questions? Or are other group members permitted to do so? Does the leader want members to encourage one another, or is he looking for people to share their insights about a particular passage of Scripture?
Leaders may have a fuzzy idea of what they want, but in order for the members to get the most out of the group, those ideas need to be crystallized in the leader’s mind and made explicitly clear to participants. Remind your leaders that they have to coach the group to function the way they envision or you desire.
2. Being afraid of silence
What happens? Leaders don’t give participants much time to think about how to respond to questions before jumping in with their own thoughts. Quiet, more contemplative members of the group don’t speak as much.
Here’s how to fix it: One of the greatest fears people have when leading a discussion is that no one will speak up. The problem is, leaders tend to overreact to a group’s silence after a question is asked. Leaders have to remember that they are often more familiar with the topic of discussion than the participants, and that many people prefer to have time to think about their answer before they speak.
Remind leaders that twenty to thirty seconds of silence can seem like a long time, but it can allow people who might not normally respond to jump in. Plus, it may lead to more thoughtful responses, as people have more time to think before replying. Encourage leaders to ask a question and say, “I’ll give you a moment to think before calling on someone to respond.” Or, suggest that leaders ask questions in a round, so that every person will have the opportunity to respond.
Depending upon the size of the group, the leader may want to limit the responses to a certain number of sentences or a certain amount of time. And remember, leaders can also give group members the opportunity to think about the questions others ask. Say Josh asks a question of the group. The leader can say, “Josh, that’s a great question; I’d like everyone to think about it before we all respond.”
3. Mistaking compassion for competence
What happens? A leader assumes that because he has great compassion for someone in the group, his well-intentioned efforts to help are adequate or effective. This causes more harm than good when the leader offers advice that doesn’t fit the situation.
Here’s how to fix it: Sometimes group members may feel comfortable sharing struggles within the group that are best handled by a professional counselor. In these situations, your leader may feel compelled to share “what has worked for me” or “what comes to my mind”—but this advice will not be enough and may not be appropriate.
Help your leader understand the difference between one-another ministry, lay counseling, and professional counseling. You may even want to provide a list of issues that, if they arise within the group, the leader should ask for help with. Especially if your leader lacks training in counseling, he should understand clearly how to respond if any of the issues come up in the group. Set clear expectations so your leader knows what he is and is not responsible for in a home group setting.
Help your leader understand the difference between one-another ministry, lay counseling, and professional counseling.
4. Teaching instead of facilitating
What happens? Everyone listens to the leader teach, and no one shares. People may learn, but your leader’s goals for the group may not be realized. People have fewer opportunities to share their problems and prayer requests.
Here’s how to fix it: If you want your leaders to teach, then there really isn’t a problem. But if you want leaders to facilitate discussion, be sure that they are able to ask good questions. Make sure they know how to listen well instead of doing all the talking.
Help your leaders see the value of sharing with one another, encouraging each other, etc. Remind them that God designed us to bear each other’s burdens, which assumes they have to be shared. Teach your leaders small-group facilitation skills.
5. Acting like a participant instead of a leader
What happens? In the absence of clear guidance from the leader, strong personalities dominate the group. Meetings start late and/or run long. People get frustrated and stop coming. Meetings rarely stay on topic. Group guidelines are ignored.
Here’s how to fix it: Some leaders are passive and reluctant to lead. They see leadership as nothing more than throwing out a list of questions. They sit back and allow the discussion to digress without redirecting it, don’t stop others from dominating the discussion, or allow the discussion time to go too long.
Perhaps they have a limited view of what it means to serve as a discussion leader. They may think that facilitating means not talking at all, or they might feel rude cutting someone off. Help these leaders understand their unique role as group leader. As leaders, they are responsible to follow a different set of guidelines. They need to be reminded that the group members look to them when someone talks too much or the topic gets off track.
6. Not coaching the group
What happens? The leader doesn’t validate healthy behavior, so group members are unsure if they’re doing what’s in the best interest of the group. Members use their own value systems to determine what’s best (what’s funniest, what’s “deep,” what’s most controversial, etc.). Edifying behavior can be ridiculed by other group members.
Here’s how to fix it: In addition to repeating the group guidelines on a regular basis, it also helps for the leader to point out when members do what he is looking for during the discussion. If a participant does a good job encouraging someone during the meeting or asks a good question, remind your leaders to point that out. This can be done at the end of the meeting. You can even suggest that the leader appoint an assistant who gives positive feedback to the group at the close of the meeting. This is another way to remind participants of what’s expected and desired of them during the meeting.
Preventing these common mistakes of home group leaders
Your home group leaders can help you recognize potential care issues that need your attention. But it works only if your leaders can create environments in which people are comfortable sharing. Talk with your leaders and make sure that you’re on the same page about what you want from your small groups, and that they have the gifting and skills to carry out your vision.