Almost every group will have one or more of what I call “EGRs.” EGR stands for: Extra Grace Required. These are well-meaning but high-demanding people who can derail a group discussion if not dealt with in a healthy, biblical way.
Your group may have at least one member who has a tendency to dominate the conversation. They have been a Christian for a while, and it’s difficult for them to let others express their thoughts first. Here are a few ideas you can try with a dominator:
- Sit next to him or her during the discussion time. There is something about that proximity to the facilitator that can help quiet a dominator.
- Don’t make eye contact first with the person when you ask a question to the group.
- Intentionally ask another group member a question directly before offering it to the group.
- Meet with him or her after the group time to ask for help in giving less seasoned Christians in the group the opportunity to express their thoughts first.
Opposite of the dominator, the dodger is the person in the group who never enters the conversation. They never make eye contact and seem disengaged with group life. Here are a few things you can do to engage the dodgers in your group:
- Don’t force someone to talk in the group before they are ready to. Some people just need time to feel comfortable with the group before they can open up.
- Give everyone in the group the opportunity to share their story in five minutes or fewer. You need to give them at least a week’s notice before sharing.
- Ask for her opinion on a question that is not too intrusive or difficult. Icebreaker questions like, “What superhero did you want to be growing up?” are ideal for getting everyone into the conversation and comfortable using their voices.
- Arrange for coffee or a chat outside the group time. Many people are more comfortable opening up one-on-one rather than in a large group.
You will hit topics in your group that will be controversial to some. In fact, if you are committed to studying the whole Bible, that will definitely be the case. When that happens, you may have people in your group who want to debate either side of the issue. Some debate is healthy, and leaders must learn to differentiate between primary gospel issues and secondary issues. On primary issues—for example, the full humanity and divinity of Christ, the reality of Christ as the only way of salvation, and the necessity of sharing the gospel with the world—God’s truth must ultimately be agreed upon. On less important matters—for example, debates about finer doctrinal points like the definition of predestination or views on the end times—it’s okay to leave some disagreement. Ultimately, the goal of your group is discipleship, not mere theological training. Here are a few things you can do to keep that goal in sight:
- Know what God is telling us in the passage of Scripture being discussed. This will involve preparation.
- Study the passage in context with the group. This will shed more light on the issue than just a few verses.
- Refer to a study Bible like the CSB Study Bible. Study Bibles can help explain difficult passages.
- Never be afraid to end a debate with, “Let me check with a pastor this week and report back to the group on this question.” It’s okay to not know the answer in the moment.
A drainer is someone who always seems to drain the life out of the group. They are the constant Debbie Downer. No matter what the topic of discussion is that week, they turn it into a conversation about them and their current struggles. A drainer will make other group members hesitant to open up about their own personal lives. Here are a few things you can do to help manage the drainer in your group:
- Meet with the person outside the group time to bring the issue to their attention. They may not realize the problem and will be more aware of their comments in future meetings.
- If the prayer time is normally done through verbal requests, change it up by asking group members to write their requests down and email them to the group later. This will help eliminate one opportunity for a drainer to take over.
- The level of the person’s needs may require professional care that your group is not equipped to offer. If this is the case, connect with a church leader to help facilitate next steps for help.
With all of these examples, use Paul’s advice in Ephesians as your guide to the response.
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Eph. 4:32)
However, that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be healthy boundaries in place. Shepherds have a sheep pen where only the sheep may gather. Jesus gave us this picture in John 10:
“Truly I tell you, anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (vv. 1–2)
There are times when our families must come first. And there will be times when a toxic member of the group may need to step out of the group to receive professional counseling before returning. Hurting people hurt people, and one person can destroy a group if not dealt with in a biblical and honest manner. If this is the case, it’s always best to bring a pastor or church staff member into the situation as soon as possible. The process laid out in Matthew 18:15–17 should be followed in a small group just like in a church.
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.”
A group member should only be asked to leave the group after all attempts have been made to restore him to health and fellowship.
Chris Surratt, Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2019).