Operating Principles of Small Groups
Small groups function most effectively when allowed the freedom to function as members desire. That doesn't mean "anything goes," for healthy groups need to have certain norms and accountability to the larger congregation. Rather than insist on uniformity in how groups function, the best practice is to monitor groups' behavior, to intervene when people are getting hurt, and to celebrate diversity.
Here are some basic operating principles as a guide for getting started with small groups.
Optimal = 8 to 15.
Leave room for members to bring friends.
When regular attendance exceeds 15, form a new group.
Each group should be facilitated by a trained and accountable leader, who has been approved by pastoral staff. This isn't for purposes of control, but to verify maturity, suitability for such a task, and availability for the necessary time commitment.
Direct involvement of pastoral staff in selecting, training and supporting group leaders affirms small groups as a key component of the overall work of the congregation, and not a rogue movement.
Training should include basic instruction on:
- Group dynamics
- Setting and observing group norms
Each small group will be unique
In its identity, activities and purposes, each group will reflect the needs and personalities of its original members. As those needs change, and as personal development and new faces bring changes to personalities, the group will need to evolve. This can be difficult for founding members to accomplish. When a group reaches a certain threshhold of transformation, it might need to dissolve, so that new groups can emerge.
In training group leaders, pastoral staff need to equip them to recognize such evolving realities, to deal with inevitable conflict, and to recognize a need to re-form.
- Regular participation
- Openness, transparency
- Keeping group life in the group
- No effort to "fix" another group member
Scenarios to anticipate and be prepared for:
- Manipulative behavior, passive-aggression
- Unfair sharing of "air-time"
- Fixing and amateur therapy
- Breach of confidentiality
- Pressure to have all groups be alike
Facilitators are accountable to professional staff. This isn't a control mechanism, but a process for building a healthy partnership.
Group leaders should refer in-depth needs to pastoral staff.
Groups will need to make decisions about where they fall on spectra such as social, prayer, study, activity, mission work.
New groups should form regularly, to incorporate new or not-yet-participating members and their friends.
Group members will need to be reminded that cliquishness reveals a lack of trust in God's desire for inclusion and love.