When I decided to jump back into the blogosphere, part of the deal I made with myself was to stop obsessing over every post. As a recovering perfectionist, I do tend to obsess at times, and with my writing it manifests as going over a draft multiple times, finding just the right words, the right pictures, changing words and formatting and just generally tweaking. One post could take me hours to get just so.
Oh, and I also felt the need to lead into everything with a great story, a hook, the blogging experts call it.
All I have to say now is: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
As an exercise in shedding those perfectionist tendencies, I will be posting some rather ‘rough’ drafts in order to actually get down some of the thoughts and musings that run through my head each week that I don’t have the time or inclination to tweak to perfection.
Feel free to let me know if I dangle a participle or if a rogue word escapes the spell checker. True friends let each other know when they have a goober in their teeth or a verb tense wrong, yes?
So, here’s my random, ‘rough’ musing for the week:
My daughters just returned from a super fun winter camp through our church. They got together with other teens from some other churches and drove several hours to snowy central Oregon. These coastal kids rarely get the treat of real snow, meaning actual multi-foot drifts of the soft, fluffy goodness. They had a great time tubing and hanging out with friends, throwing snowballs at each other and listening to great teaching from the guest speaker.
However, one of them was a bit disappointed with the small group leader she had. My daughter was kind as she spoke of it, making sure I knew this leader was a nice young woman, but her complaint was that the leader didn’t lead. At all.
Apparently, when they broke off into groups after the teaching, this leader didn’t say anything. No joke. In a moment of awkwardness, one of the teens (a 15 year old, mind you) asked, “What did you guys think of the teaching?” After that, this thoughtful teen took notes so she could ask questions of the group to facilitate some discussion after the teaching sessions.
My daughter just shrugged and said of the leader who didn’t lead, “I think she was just there to make sure we weren’t smoking weed or anything. It seemed like she didn’t really want to be there.” She hastened to add, “But she was nice enough.”
This topic of small group leading has come up quite a bit lately and I’ve discovered that a lot of people don’t have any idea how to run a small group. I mentioned in an earlier post that this is something I’m weirdly good at. Weirdly, because I’m not much of a people person and also because I struggle with social anxiety. But our Father, in his infinite wisdom, or perhaps in his infinite sense of humor, created me to be a decent ‘facilitator of discussion’.
There are a few things I’ve learned along the group leading journey, so I thought I’d share them here in hopes they might prove useful to someone.
Tips for Facilitating Discussion
1.) Leading a small group is, in essence, public speaking so speak a little bit slower than you think is normal. (I say this to my theater kids all the time!) You want to give your listeners time to process your words and they will appreciate a non-rushed delivery.
2.) Know your material. If you know ahead of time what you’re going to be discussing, study it. If you’re having a post-teaching discussion time, write down the major points during the lecture. In either case, jot down questions that will get the discussion going and give some thought to your own answers. (Some of my worst group encounters were when I tried to just ‘wing it’. Be prepared!)
3.) I do not generally recommend doing the ’round-robin’ style for most questions. Some people won’t have a ready answer and will need time. Others may simply not feel comfortable sharing. Throw the question out, pause, then answer yourself if no one jumps in. (But give it a few seconds; silence is good and can be used.). An exception to this would be simple ‘get to know you’ questions.
4.) Be flexible. Each group will have different dynamics. Edit your questions and style as needed to connect with your particular people.
5.) Be a student of your group members. Who might be a conversation hijacker? Who will need to be drawn out?
6.) If you’re on a limited time frame, be up front on the first day with your talkers. Tell them you’ll reign them in if they get too wordy, and to not be offended by this. Keep it light hearted in tone!
7.) Conversely, be mindful to not put your severe introverts on the spot. Try to draw them out but don’t push if they don’t have an answer.
8.) Keep the conversation on track. A little bit of rabbit trailing is fine, but wrangle the discussion back to the main point if it gets too off track. Again, keep this light in tone, especially if you have to interrupt someone to do it.
9.) Silence is a good thing! ( I know I already said this, but it bears repeating. This is one of the top mistakes I see leaders make!) When you throw out a question, give it a few seconds if needed. Some people need the time to think of a response. However, a good rule of thumb is no more than 5 seconds of dead space, at which time you can share your own response or try rephrasing the question.
10.) Be invested in your group. Whether you find yourself with a group of teens you’ve never met, or a group from your church you’re fairly comfortable with, keep in mind that you are there to serve them. The whole point of small groups is to connect with and to learn from each other, and those two things rarely happen without a leader who leads!
I hope these are helpful! What do you think makes for a good group leader? Please share your tips in the comments!
Grace and peace,
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.