Leading and shepherding a Life Group can be an overwhelming task. One of the most important responsibilities of the Leader is to facilitate the actual Life Group meeting. I have had the opportunity to lead and be led in different small group settings and have made a few observations that may help you feel more equipped and confident to facilitate your next Life Group gathering.
Ten Rules to Maximize Life Group Gatherings:
1. Respect the Time
In my experience, group time often slips away due to off-topic stories or random side-conversations. There is a time to be share personal stories when they relate to the context of the discussion, they help apply the text or the message at hand. However, to maximize the 1 1/2 hours of group time, you as the facilitator must be intentional to re-direct disconnected conversations in order to stay on track. You may have to get creative to do it in a positive, encouraging way. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you will feel better about it the more you do it!!
Note: Begin on time. End on Time. It will be one of the greatest factors for your group’s success.
2. Don’t Rush the Prayer
Why rush the prayer? Prayer is the most powerful portion of the group gathering. It is a time to bring focus and intentionality to the time you have together. When we rush through the prayer, we are missing the very reason we meet together – Community with God. God in the midst of our groups is essential. His presence cannot be replaced and He must not be removed. Spend the allotted 15 minutes for prayer praying purposefully for open hearts for the people in your Life Group, for boldness to share the gospel and for God to soften the hearts of those with whom we share.
Note: We will only become Gospel-centered when the Gospel is central to who we are and what we do!
3. Own the Material:
Read and study the Life Group Guide. It is provided as a guideline to help you facilitate a productive group time. In your group time, DO NOT JUST READ the group guide. Use it to stay on track.
Note: Your pre-gathering preparation is essential in order to maximize a great discussion.
4. Ask Questions:
Utilize the open-ended questions that are provided for you. Open-ended questions allow people to give an explanation answer rather a statement answer of “yes” or “no”. Then ask follow-up questions. It is normal to initially get short, surface responses, but if you follow-up with a question that is related to the first response you can prompt deeper, more meaningful discussion for everyone.
Note: Asking questions is essential!
5. Allow Questions:
In the group discussion, everyone has questions. They may not ask, but they have questions. Allow them to ask the questions. This often comes down to two things: creating time and space for people to ask and asking the question: Does anyone have a question or a comment about this? Sometimes we don’t ask for questions because we don’t think we can give a the question. You don’t have to have an answer for every question. If you have an answer, share it. If not, leave it to discussion. If there is no discussion, say I don’t know! I have often been asked questions that have no clue how to answer. Saying I don’t know, but I will try to find you and answer allows me time to answer the question in an educated way. When I get back with them with the information I have found, it builds trust and credibility with the person who asked.
Note: Don’t allow the questions to derail the group conversation!
6. Embrace the Silence:
Silence can be grueling, especially when you are pressed for time. As the facilitator, DON’T BREAK THE SILENCE! If you are uncomfortable with silence, you can bet that others are too! However, let someone else in the group be the silence-breaker. Over time, this will create a comfortable atmosphere of discussion in your group. The more comfortable people are in the group, the more they will talk and silence won’t be an issue!
Note: Silence doesn’t always mean they have nothing to say or that they are uncomfortable participating in the discussion, it just might mean they are in deep thought! Some of the greatest experiences in group life can come from intentional silence: a time to listen to God, meditate on what He is saying and then to share the revelation. Give the space and the time for God to move!
7. Allow Multiple Responses:
Remember, you are facilitating the discussion, not teaching a lesson. This is a group, not a class. It is a dialogue not a lecture!
Note: Allow multiple responses
8. Affirm Participation:
Encourage people when they respond. Not every response or statement will be correct, but encourage your members when they participate. Encouragement will establish a healthy attachment and an atmosphere of connection and belonging.
Note: Deeper connection and belonging will produce deeper participation.
9. Share Responsibility
Just like in a family, every member of your Life Group needs to belong and every member needs to bear some group responsibility. While you are the facilitator, it is necessary to share the duties and responsibilities of the group with the members. For example: Allow someone to lead the Prayer time, someone else to plan and lead worship, another member to lead a portion of the Word. These are basic responsibilities that can be shared within the group that will create a sense of ownership and partnership between all the members. For other roles and responsibilities refer to pg. 3 of the Life Group Shepherd Guide: Know the Role, Rhythm, Resources & Result Handbook. (For a copy, please contact the church office).
Note: Your goal is to encourage, equip and to empower others to lead.
10. Micro-Manage the Time
Haven’t we discussed this already? Well, sort of! My time is precious and I know yours is too. However, I believe it is one of the most frequently wasted resources in group life. Along with your group members, establish a healthy time-frame for your group meeting. If it is 1 1/2 hours great. If you need 2 hours that’s fine. Just establish the time allotment with your group members, remind them of it often and stay on track. If group gatherings end on time, you have respected the other members. If group time ends early, you have blessed them. If group time runs long – you have committed the unpardonable sin (not really, but you may lose members if it becomes the normal pattern for your gathering). Respect the precious time of your group members and they will respect yours. Better yet, they will respect you!