Small group leadership can be difficult to navigate when you’re dealing with different schedules (including your own), desires, participation levels, and even tough questions. In our Discipleship Intensive experiences, we try our best to walk you through this often winding road. But left to your own devices, you may feel overwhelmed by certain factors that make leading your group feel challenging.
Here are some common scenarios, as well as quick tips to build your confidence in small group leadership.
What to do when someone doesn’t talk much:
If you’re experiencing a small group member that doesn’t participate in discussions as much as you’d like them to, there might be two different reasons for this. The first is that they might not feel comfortable with new settings or people. If this is the case, make it a point to spend time with them and ask them questions that make them feel seen and comfortable. Most importantly, be patient! The more comfortable they feel with you and the group, the more talkative they will become.
Another great idea is to plan activities with the group doing things outside of Bible study. Pick an activity that you think your group would engage with and watch relationships grow. If your group is made up of people that are interested in very different things, try out new things together. Some examples our team has come up with:
- Go to a movie
- Host a game night or reality TV show viewing party
- Grab dinner together
- Go bowling
- Play pickleball / volleyball
- Go hiking or swimming
If you need ideas to make group time more interesting or engaging, try hosting your small group in a fun, new place – a favorite restaurant, a picnic in a cool spot, a church sanctuary or prayer room (after receiving permission, of course).
The second reason your quieter group members might not be engaging in discussion time is that they may simply be an internal processor. Sometimes it is easier for people to process deeper questions in their head rather than “talking it out” – and that’s okay! Make sure to circle back to these people and ask them if they have anything they’d like to share so that they don’t get forgotten as the conversation progresses.
What to do when someone asks a question you don’t know the answer to:
Often times, small group discussions bring up questions or doubts that we simply don’t know the answer to. When faced with a question you’re not sure how to answer, follow these three steps:
- Do not try to make up an answer. It’s okay to admit you don’t know at the time! In fact, this can be an opportunity for you to model being a good learner and remind everyone that only God holds all the answers.
- Open the question up for group discussion, if that feels appropriate. It could lead to a healthy, fruitful conversation that might be needed for someone in your group.
- Ask your ministry leader. Write down the question and do some research when you get home or take it to your ministry leader to provide some guidance.
“Why does my small group feel so awkward?”
The beginning of a new small group Bible study almost always feels a little funny. It’s a new blend of personalities and stories, so it is natural that it takes a few meetings for everyone to get comfortable with each other. Push through the awkward moments. If you’re several meetings in and it’s still feeling weird, here are a few options to try:
- Spend time with members one-on-one.
- Encourage your group to spend time with one another outside of group time.
- Organize group time outside of Bible study that creates an experience and established more relationships.
- Use group time to just be more “get to know each other” time to share a little bit about your stories rather than jumping into curriculum.
“I don’t feel like I can do this.”
First of all – yes, you can! However, feeling like you’re too busy or too tired or simply not good enough to lead a small group Bible study is a very real and valid feeling. The enemy wants those unsettling feelings to creep up when we’re doing a good thing like making more disciples. That’s exactly the thing he doesn’t want to happen. Fight that feeling by:
- Spending more time with the Lord. Bring those doubts and fears to Him and ask Him to strengthen you to do this.
- Bring those feelings to your ministry leader – they most likely know the doubts and fears you’re experiencing. Ask them about their experience starting out in ministry or what it was like the first time they led a Bible study. Ask them to pray for you.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
“I’m too busy”
These years are most likely the busiest years of your life – whether you’re in the midst of college classes and internships or entering the work force head-on, your weekly schedule is most likely booked (or in some cases, double-booked). While the 18-25 age range are the fullest years, it’s important that we don’t get lost in them. In fact, that very busyness might be part of the reason so many young adults are walking away from their faiths and the church in the first place – there’s simply not enough time!
If you’re feeling that tug to skip a few Sundays of church, to neglect alone time with the Lord, or to quit leading a small group Bible study, remind yourself of what’s truly important. Take a hard look at your weekly planner and cross out the things that don’t matter. Ask the Lord to help you say “no” to things that are out of your capacity and “yes” to the things that will build you up and bring glory to God’s kingdom.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” God will help us when we ask Him for help. We read later in Matthew 11 that Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Your peers need you, now more than ever. If leading a small group feels like it’s too much, lean on Jesus – He will carry it with you. He will sustain and strengthen you.
What to do when I’m asked to hold really hard things:
Even the most healthy, fruitful small groups can sometimes feel like too much. If you’re past the point of getting to know your group and members are sharing and participating a lot, first take a moment to celebrate that – that’s a big deal! Your group members feel safe sharing more personal things because of your effort to create a healthy, confidential environment. However, as groups of people get closer and begin to share deeper, more vulnerable things, it can feel like it gets heavy really fast. One of two things might happen:
- Your small group turns into group therapy. It can quickly feel like your time of studying the Bible together becomes a time where people use your group as an “emotional dump,” where they regularly drop all their emotional baggage onto the group, rather than actually studying the Bible together.
- You are asked to hold information above your ability or willingness. During either group time or one-on-one meetings with members of your small group, you might be asked to hold things that feel like too much.
In these moments, it’s important that you’re honest with your friends. Whether it’s reminding your group members that this was meant to be a time of just studying the Bible together or encouraging someone to see a licensed counselor, it’s essential to your spiritual and emotional health that you not carry those things alone.
What to do when my group disagrees on foundational theology or on a social, cultural, or political issue and we can’t seem to get past it:
Some people in your group might feel more strongly about a certain theological topic or a social, cultural, or political issue than others. That’s okay! Set a precedent with your group for how much you’d like to talk about those things during group time or social time. Some groups might seriously enjoy picking each other’s brains about these things, challenging each other’s views. Other groups prefer to stay as far away from those topics as possible. Decide, as a group, what you’d like to do.
What to do when we can’t find a mutual meeting space/time:
If you find yourself unable to find a mutual meeting time amongst your group, don’t give up. Ask the Lord to provide the perfect spot for your group to meet, He will provide. If the reason your group can’t find a time to meet is because someone’s schedule is just too busy, see if you can work your meeting time into something that’s already a part of their schedule. For example, if they stop at Panera every Wednesday morning at 7:30am before class, see if they’d be willing to come just 30 minutes earlier at 7am to have small group time.
If your issue isn’t so much as finding a time, but finding a location to meet, ask the rest of your group to ask around to see if there’s somewhere you missed. Ask your ministry leader to help too – they’ll help you find the right spot!
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