There are views aplenty about Bible study groups, ranging from people who cannot stand them to Christian converts who avow them. It’s clear that the Bible study group—the small group—can be a revelation in the spiritual life or a disaster (with all modes between).
Let’s discuss some more of the obvious small-group killers.
1. The Breaking of Confidentiality
Truth is a hard taskmaster. Sometimes we are duped in being a good Christian witness simply in declaring truths we have no entitlement to share. We have all either made this mistake or been on the receiving end of the mistake.
The breaking of confidences threatens the end of relationships; not that breaking a covenant of trust is always beyond redemption. But sometimes broken confidences are final.
In small groups there is the important need of keeping confidences. We need to keep to ourselves what has been discussed in the group within the group. Indeed, it’s best left at the group meeting.
The best policy may be: “What you hear here, see here, stays here”
2. A Lack of Purpose or Mission
All good small groups straddle the chasm between too much structure and too much freedom. The group meets for a purpose, or purposes plural. The mission of the group should be known and it should be simple.
When a group has enough structure that it doesn’t wander off track too much, yet it has enough freedom to allow sufficient exploration of members’ issues, it achieves the balance needed to satisfy most of the members most of the time.
A good indication that the mission or purpose of the group is being achieved is the contentment of its members. The members will know whether their time is well spent or if their time’s being wasted.
The facilitator must ensure the mission is clear and achieved most of the time.
3. The Lack of a Group Covenant
The mission of the group should be without unnecessary structure. Complementing the mission is an agreement or contract that members willingly sign and abide by.
They agree to total and complete confidentiality, to being as open as they can about their lives, to love each other unconditionally, to be kept accountable, to pray for each other, to not judge other members regarding their relationship with God, and finally to come prepared each week.
This may seem like a long list. But if small-group members are serious about their spiritual growth, and the safety of the group, they will have no problem committing.
4. When the Group Mission Gets Confused
Members get confused and frustrated when the group wanders off track, week after week, or fortnight after fortnight.
Sometimes members, the facilitator, or the whole group forget what they’re there for. Small groups fulfil several functions in one meeting, but they are not group counselling sessions, or theological debates, or problem solving forums.
At times distractions from the real purpose of the group are intentional, because members or the whole group would prefer not to discuss the real issues (as an avoidance technique).
It’s up to the facilitator to ask poignant questions get the group back on track.
5. Members Don’t Feel Valued
Along with small-group killer #1, this is the most important consideration.
If members within the group don’t feel valued as much as a loved family member would feel valued, the small-group experience is failing in its objective.
This is the true test of our Christian love; we must love each of the members unconditionally, and that means working with God until we truly feel it in our hearts. Then, each of the members will feel valued by us.
Good small-group experience is the beauty of Christian fellowship, a catalyst for spiritual growth, and the bedrock for loving support. It’s a safe and enjoyable place to meet, which also meets our fellowship and discipleship needs between meetings.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Steve Sonderman, Mobilizing Men for One-on-One Ministry – The Transforming Power of Authentic Friendship and Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Bethany House, 2010), pp. 148-50.