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10 Ways to Help Small Group Members Participate More

5. Listen to help small group members participate more.

The best facilitator actively listens more than speaks. The more Nate followed the tips below to improve his listening skills, the better he was able to facilitate the group.

Be quiet. This should be obvious, but it often is the biggest obstruction to listening. The leader should be part of a discussion without monopolizing it.

Try to understand. The goal of listening is to understand what the person is really saying.

Empathize. Interject short statements to show you are listening, understand and accept what the person is saying. “That sounds exciting!” or, “That must have been a hard decision to make” are examples of how to show empathy. Also pay attention to your facial expressions.

Don’t judge. Especially when someone is already hurting, a judgmental attitude can do more harm than good. Don’t condone sin, of course, but recognize the difference between accepting the person and what is being said, and showing approval of the sin.

Avoid advising. People usually do not want nor need you to solve their problem. They just need someone to listen.

Verify and clarify. If you’re not sure you understand what someone is saying, speak up. “Here’s what I hear you saying. Am I right?” is one clarifier.

Listen for what is not said. Try to hear the meaning behind the words. Watch body language and listen to tone of voice. Sometimes what a person is saying is lost behind a clutter of words.

Affirm. “Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure it isn’t easy to talk about right now.” This builds acceptance for talking about difficult things and makes it easier for someone else to share.

6. Be real to help small group members participate more.

The leader must take the lead (amazing insight, isn’t it?). Little by little, Nate opened up and became increasingly transparent. He prayed for discernment, discussed it with his intern, and prayed the group would be ready to go to the next level of transparency.

The leader who models vulnerability and openness with the group draws out the members. Nate found that people start wanting intimacy when they need it, when they have a deep hurt or serious need in their own lives. If trust has been built, intimacy happens naturally.

7. Love ‘em to help small group members participate more.

Unconditional love for participants (and even “nonparticipants”) goes a long way. It’s easy to love lovable people, but our high calling is to love the people who are tough to love, too. Nate learned the truth about this: We can do this only as we accept and live in the love God has for us. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The most important thing a cell leader can do is intentionally walk with God every day, experiencing the fullness of God’s love so it might be poured out to those we lead.

8. Laugh to help small group members participate more!

Have fun as a group before, during and after the meeting, and your cell will open up like you never imagined.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine” for your group (Prov. 17:22). When people laugh together, they usually share more openly together, too.

Laughter breaks down the walls we build around ourselves. It helps people burdened with life’s demands to release pent-up emotions in a positive way. A good belly laugh just feels good, especially when you can forget about yourself and your troubles for a while.

Nate used history-sharing icebreakers to get the group laughing together. He asked everyone to bring a photo of himself or herself in elementary or high school. Out-of-date clothing and hairstyles were enough to get them laughing, and stories about their childhood or teen years kept them chuckling. He asked members to share the funniest thing that had ever happened to them. Other times, he asked couples what humorous things happened when they were dating. He also could have used a video or audio clip from a recording of a Christian comedian on the subject of the study.

9. Facilitate the group; disciple individuals.

Don’t get these confused. Jesus taught the crowds, but He discipled Peter, John, James and others individually, often taking one or two or three away separately to talk with them. Spend time with individuals from the group, and not just the intern. Nate found writing notes of encouragement to members or making a phone call when he noticed a member needing ministry helped during the group’s time together.

Lovingly discipline as necessary.

10. Discover and use one another’s gifts.

Everyone has a gift, a passion, a personality and a role in the group. The group’s thumbprint is dependent on each person’s unique gift. A spiritual gift inventory may work for some groups. Nate got the group involved in ministry with one another—all kinds of ministry, both inside and outside the group. During meetings, he asked the group to share with one another what gifts they saw in others. These were some of the best cell meetings in which Nate had ever been involved. This discussion took place:

Rob: “You know, Cindy, you have the gift of mercy.”

Cindy: “Me? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Rob: “Yeah, you! When I went through my job loss, you were the one who came to me and hugged me and cared for me and my family.”

Kate: “That’s right, Cindy. When I was sick you came to visit me and brought me chicken noodle soup and prayed with me.”

Craig: “And when I went through my divorce, you accepted me and loved me and listened to me.”

Cindy: “Really? I didn’t think of that as a gift. That’s just a part of who I am!”

As each person discovered his or her gift, passion and personality, and how he or she could play an important role in the group, Nate’s job of facilitating became easier and more effective. As he modeled these Top 10 ways to help small group members participate, each member recognized that he or she is an integral member of the Body of Christ and began behaving accordingly, inside and outside the meeting. You can follow Nate’s lead and turn the “quiet times” of your cell meetings into an experience of life and mutual love. Watch out! People will begin to minister, and you won’t be able to stop them.

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mmack@churchleaders.com'
Michael C. Mack founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and served as a small-groups minister for more than 20 years in several churches. He is a writer, editor, trainer, and consultant in the areas of small groups, leadership, and discipleship. He is the author of more than 25 books and small group studies, including his latest, World's Greatest Small Group (pub. January, 2017). He regularly blogs on his ministry website at SmallGroupLeadership.com. His family is a small group that includes his wife Heidi, their four children, and their dog, Lainey. Mike is also an avid mountain biker.