The health of a discussion group may be hindered by many kinds of self-centered and disruptive actions and attitudes that you may find in yourself as well as in other group members. Recognize these challenges and be ready with a response so that ongoing patterns won’t destroy the group.
The Q Place Guidelines Card is a powerful resource; you’ll see references to its Guidelines and Discussion Tips, below. If you used the Guidelines Card to start your group, and if you have reviewed it each time a new person has come in, you have set the stage well. It could be that a brief, casual reminder will be sufficient to get back on track. Your example may encourage others in the group to refer to it as well. (Also, check out Checklists that will help group members to evaluate and self-correct.)
Below, you will find common actions or attitudes that could challenge your group, responses that you may find to be effective, and a reference to related guidelines or discussion tips.
Arguing is challenging others in the group, holding a position with an attitude of superiority, and becoming combative if others are not in agreement.
The group should remind the person who is arguing that all are in the process of discovery. No one has to believe any statement or the Bible, but everyone should be honest with it. It may help to state the difference of opinion before you agree to leave it unresolved.
Guidelines: 7, 8
Blocking is going off on tangents, belaboring points the group has resolved, and hindering the flow of discussion by fuzzy thinking due to lack of preparation.
To refocus on the topic, ask someone to restate the main point under discussion.
Guidelines: 5, 8
Discussion Tips: 2
Dominating is interrupting the contributions of others, making speeches at the group, answering a question at great length, and sharing long, often irrelevant illustrations.
Talk personally to any who tend to dominate about the importance of equal sharing in the group; agree to remind each other not to do too much talking and to encourage active participation by all in the group.
Guidelines: 1, 3, 4, 7
Being the Expert
Being the expert is promoting oneself as a Bible authority by lecturing the group instead of participating in discussion. It includes making cross-references that haven’t been studied by the group, slowing the group down by sharing at great length bits of minutiae from books or sermons, and robbing others of the joy of discovery by speaking too quickly and not giving others a chance.
Mention that you are probably getting away from what the group had agreed to do. Meet privately with a person who tends to be the expert and explain the purpose and format of the group and the importance of letting people share their own discoveries. Remind the person that the best way for people to grow is to share in the group discussion and that equal sharing of participation time is a courtesy. Ask him or her to pray with you for the group.
Guidelines: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7
Discussion Tips: 1, 3
Griping is finding fault with everything, complaining about others in the group, and generally being unhappy. Griping can include arguing with the study guide to avoid focusing on the Scripture.
Ask the group whether the thing complained about is an issue for others. If it isn’t, move on. Ask anyone who has a pattern of griping to take on a responsibility, such as bringing snacks or providing a ride for someone. Also, look for underlying reasons that he or she might have a negative attitude.
People Pleasing is being overeager to please the group or the leader and giving “right” answers but not necessarily honest answers.
Be honest in your own responses about things you don’t understand or find difficult. Express appreciation when group members speak frankly in the discussion.
Therapy Seeking is using the group for cheap psychiatry, sharing at length the next development in personal issues.
Use tact and be compassionate, but interrupt lengthy discussion about the problem. Encourage those who are going through difficult things to focus on the discussion at hand while you’re in the group together. Remind them that you aren’t equipped as therapists, but that you’ll pray that something in your discussion of the Bible or the topic at hand will encourage and help them. See also Handling Small Group Crises. Meet separately to listen, pray with the person, and perhaps recommend seeing a counselor.
Discussion Tips: 2
Having Tunnel Vision
Having Tunnel Vision is seeing everything through the prism of a particular doctrine or experience and letting pet concerns dominate each response.
Ask someone else to state the main point of the paragraph. Review the purpose and nature of the group.
Discussion Tips: 2, 3
Withdrawing can range from not participating in the group discussion, to being increasingly passive and indifferent, to sitting at the edge of the group and being likely to drop out.
Build a one-on-one relationship with those who tend to be silent, finding their interests and getting to know them better. Look for underlying reasons that they might not be opening up in the discussion. Gently bring these individuals into the discussion by asking a question that you know they can answer. Encourage them to take a turn asking the questions for the discussion.
(Guidelines 1 and 5 fit as well, but cultivate a culture that encourages participation rather than pressing the person to participate.)