Dealing with difficult situations


How do I respond if nobody joins the discussion?

·         Wait.  Show the group you expect them to participate.  Five seconds of silence feels like forever to the leader, but it means the group is thinking, which is not bad.

·         Rephrase the question, giving participants time to think.

·         Use subgroups if more than 7 participants are present.

·         Ask open-ended questions (avoid questions that can be answered "yes" or "no").


What should I do if one person dominates the discussion?

·         Avoid eye contact with that person when you ask a question.

·         Call on people by name to answer a question, if you know it will not embarrass them.

·         Sit beside your talker and touch him or her on the knee or shoulder when it is someone else's turn.  It is more difficult to dominate sitting next to the leader.

·         Interrupt with, "Thank you.  That was great.  Now let's hear from someone else."  Be gentle but firm.

·         For a recurring problem with multiple talkers, remind the group occasionally, "Let's keep our responses brief so everyone will have a chance to talk."


What happens if cliques form?

·         Establish or re-evaluate the group covenant.  (Find a sample covenant in the LIFE group leader's toolkit.)

·         Keep the mission of loving new people in front of the group.

·         Utilize the empty chair.

·         Talk to key participants one on one.  Ask them to evaluate the group and discuss how it could grow stronger.

·         Use ice-breakers and other open-ended questions to invite people to share new parts of their lives.

·         Build in occasional subgroups during meeting time, and structure it where people are not with their closest friends. 


What should I do if an argument starts?  (A rare event in small groups.)

·         Be calm.  Gain control over the situation.  Talk slowly but firmly.  "A soft answer turns away wrath" (Proverb 15:1).  Ask people to calm down.

·         Say, "It sounds like we have a difference of opinion, but we can still love and respect each other."

·         If possible, help them resolve the issue immeidately.  If not, break off the discussion and ask the parties to hold their conversation until after the meeting.  Ask the arguing parties to report the resolution back to the group next week.

·         Serve as a mediator in helping them resolve the issue between meetings.

·         Depending on the nature of the dispute, return to prepared material or move into prayer time.


How should I respond if someone shares disturbing personal information (Things like:  "I am having an affair." or "I have been involved in criminal activity.")?

·         Protect the group and the individual. 

·         Affirm the person who has been transparent:  "I'm glad you feel safe to share such a personal struggle.  Thank you for your honesty."

·         Delay any specific action.  Admit your limits and the group's limits:  "I don't know exactly how to respond.  I need some time to think and pray.  It might be good if you and I visited later about how we as a group can help."

·         Activate the group's strengths:

o        Pray.  Put the person or family in the middle of the circle and invite members to offer prayers on their behalf.

o        Love.  Pledge the group's on-going love.  Assure the person that he or she is still "one of us" and that the group expects them to continue participating.  Remind them that none of us have it all together and all of us go through struggles.  Encourage the group to love them and extend the grace they would want to receive in a similar situation.

o        Support.  Offer to walk with the person to the end of the struggle, whatever that end might be.  Then set up a plan for group members to follow through with steps like daily notes or interactions.

·         Wrap up the meeting.  Whatever topic you were discussing has lost the group's attention.  Give others a chance to share any concerns, and then close with prayer.

·         After the meeting, help the person make connections with a church leader or a professional counselor.  The ideal would be to go from the meeting to visit with a church leader the same day.