Helping people share in appropriate ways


Your group's morale will be determined not so much by how well they serve or by how much Bible knowledge they gain, but whether they think anybody loves them.  The best way for people to learn that they're precious in God's sight is for someone, representing the Lord, to love and value them.  Such concern communicates, "And you know, God loves you too."


Use a covenant to establish ground rules for a safe place.


Have your group members pledge, "I will not violate the Golden Rule in how I use information shared in the group."  Jesus said, "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."


Deal with "Extra-Grace-Required" (EGR) members who might cause turmoil in your group.  Such people regularly disagree with the leader, attack someone else present, criticize the behavior of others, dominate discussion time by talking incessantly, complain, behave rudely, or refuse to cooperate.  Three responses you might make to EGR members are:

1.       "This matter is important enough to you that I want to give it more focus than we can here in the meeting.  Let's talk later."

2.       "I want to honor your concern, but this is not the right forum.  Will you see me afterwards?"

3.       "I don't want you out of my life, but I will not tolerate that behavior.  If you choose to speak that way, you will not be allowed to participate in this group."  Of course, this is best said privately.


Create a "special permission forum" for people to feel safe enough to offer each other a portion of their personal biography.  Here are some approaches you can use to facilitate an atmosphere of safety, genuine interest, and comfort in opening up on the feeling level:

1.       Create a level playing field.  The opportunity to make a "childhood confession" seems to be a common question people enjoy discussing.  Such questions center around each person's experiences as a child in a way that communicates "If you care to share, then we'd love to listen."


2.       Use bonding questions.  One the longest-used formulas asks: "What was the center of warmth in your home when you were growing up?"  It is amazing what that question opens up.  You will be surprised by accounts of people raised in orphanages or people who struggled through their parents' divorce.  All kinds of stuff comes out when people feel safe enough to disclose.


3.       Avoid yes-no questions.  Questions that cannot be answered by a yes or no provoke the most ownership of response.  For example, "What do you suppose Jesus would say about this?" is far more helpful than "Would Jesus have condoned this practice?"


4.       Focus on discussion-sharing questions.  Learn to use wording that passes discussion around in a group.  About half the population uses thinking as their preferred processing technique, while the other half uses more of a feeling approach.  It is wise, then, to word application questions both along the lines of "what do you think?"and "how do you feel?"  Some questions that open deeper discussion:

-"Would you like to talk about that?

-"What do you think about that?"

-"Who has seen this principle at work lately?"

-"Does anyone have a comment or additional point of view?"

-"When would that idea be most helpful for others in this group?"


5.       Reposition statements that stifle the search for truth.  It is possible to honor persons and acknowledge their opinions without agreeing with them.  One approach is to reframe someone's statement by probing into the circumstances that led to it.  Doing so positions people as opinion givers rather than authorities, framing their comments as expression of journey more than as absolute truth.  This maintains someone's dignity while moving an assertion from "law" to opinion.  Here are several comments that are helpful:

-"Do you think you'll feel the same way a few years from now?"

-"I wonder how many others have come to the same conclusions as you have."

-"You must have suffered a great deal of pain to express yourself as you do.  Would you like to tell us a bit more of your story?"

-"What experiences in your life have led you to feel as strongly as you do?"

-"Your comment seems to come from a great deal of experience and thought." [Direct the next question to the group.]  "I wonder if others in the group have come to the same place in their understanding?"


6.       Ask permission to hold a discussion until later.  Sometimes you need to bring closure to a topic or tangent.  Here are some transitional comments you could make that might place a heated exchange on hold while your group moves on to other emphases:

-"That's something we can't do justice to in our limited time here tonight."

-"That's something I'd love to explore with you when we have an opportunity."

-"You seem to feel very strongly about that point of view.  I'd be very interested after our meeting in hearing some of the experiences that led you to that conclusion."


7.       Set an example by admitting the growth challenges you face.  Occasionally say to the group, "I don't know," "I'll have to find out," "I was wrong, you were right."  In private with your apprentice leader say, "How do I handle this kind of situation?", "Is there a more effective way to accomplish this?", "What am I not seeing here?"


8.       Control distractions.  Your group's meeting place needs to be a guarded space.  For example:

-Pets - Hood the parrot, put the cat out, lock the dog in the bedroom.

-Airwaves - Cut off radio and TV in the meeting room.

-Phones - If there is no non-participant available to mind the phone, it is best to take the phone off-hook during meetings.

-Doorbells - Designate someone to welcome latecomers.

-Children - Develop an exit strategy for any children present who won't be able to participate in the entire meeting.

-Weather - Think through the implications to your meeting, if any, of severe storms, heat waves, ice storms.


9.       Arrange seating for comfort and lighting and to avoid distractions.  Be aware that if you set up the room in a classroom format, so only the leader can be seen by all, you've thereby limited participation.  If you set up the room so people can see each other during discussions, they are far more likely to interact on a personal level.