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How to Read the Room as a Small Group Leader

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As small group leaders, some can be overly focused on relationships. Group meetings have a flexible start time and no end time. The discussion may end up centering on a single bullet point question each week, and that’s okay. These leaders are excited to see what new things the group will discuss next week.

Others of us can be overly focused on structure. Group meetings always begin and end on time and include a detailed agenda. The group’s studies are lined up for the next 18 months. These leaders know exactly what to expect when it is time to get together.

Whether you are on one end of the spectrum or somewhere in-between, it is essential to keep a pulse on your group. Some people thrive on structure. Others thrive on flexibility and spontaneity. Most groups will have a mix of both. Because of this, leaders need to have one eye on the curriculum and the clock, and the other on their group members. This is the first of a series of posts entitled Read the Room, where I’ll be focusing on simple observations that can take a group meeting from good to great by keeping everyone comfortable and engaged while giving space for God to move.

Leaning In Vs Checking Out

I once sat in on a small men’s group that was being led by someone else. Shortly after the discussion began, one small group member started talking about a current family issue they were dealing with. This topic, which I saw as a major rabbit trail from the main discussion, ended up dominating the rest of the group’s meeting.

Like a dutiful small group leader, I spent the first ten minutes thinking through different strategies to politely get back on track. Then, I noticed something. Every man in the small group was fully engaged and leaning in as the conversation went on. When I spoke to the group leader afterward, I asked why he didn’t try to get back to the curriculum. He said, “If anyone was checked out or uninterested, I would have. But for this group of men today, it was clear that hearing this man’s story, encouraging him, and praying together were more important.”

This leader was fully aware of his group’s body language. No one was checking the clock or their phones. No one was leaning back with their arms crossed. Since everyone was engaged and the conversation was healthy, he concluded that God was doing something, and it was in the group’s best interest to shift the focus of the meeting.

“Any discussion is a balance between Holy Spirit moments and people just rambling. Be sensitive to the difference between God doing something you may not have planned and the group going off course.” -Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose

It is vital to remember that God is speaking to everyone in our small groups, and that sometimes with everything else we focus on as leaders, we may be the last to notice. Not every rabbit trail is a movement of God, but if everyone is leaning in and the conversation is healthy, we need to have the flexibility to ask if God may have a different plan in mind.

This article originally appeared here.