“What do you do when a person…?” Dot, dot, dot. As Small Groups Pastor, what’s about to follow is a question about handling a certain type of personality during a small group meeting. Sometimes this dynamic can even be an excuse for a person NOT to host or lead a small group, but it doesn’t need to be.
For me, these types of situations bring a smile to my face because the fun thing about church, ministry and life is the unpredictability of working with people. Make no mistake about it either; small groups are all about working with people. A small group meeting is the art of blending different personalities into an expression of biblical community.
Instead of being frustrated, fearful or nervous about doing the wrong thing, I think we should welcome these opportunities into our life because they will help us grow extremely fast and many of them will create memorable stories for years to come.
In this article I want to layout seven common small group personalities that you will encounter in small group meetings along with some blending solutions (I shared many helpful hints in my Starter Kit article, 5 Facets of Facilitating with Finesse, which I will refer to). Hopefully, this will partially remove the fear of the unknown. As you read about each one just know that not only will you have these people in your small group eventually, but there’s a little bit of you (in some cases a lot of you) in each of these personality traits, too.
1. The Over-Talker. This is the person who gives long 5-7 minute answers several times within a discussion segment. When they begin to answer a question everybody squints their eyes and tries to exert grace while they wonder, “How long will they talk this time?”
We want to love this person but we also cannot allow them to dominate the conversation. For more on this, see my point on how toStay in Control in 5 Facets of Facilitating…
2. The Derailer. This person never seems to answer the question you’re asking. You ask the group to open up about their own lives and they begin to talk about the shortcomings of other Christians. You ask them what they think Jesus was saying in a certain passage and they share about what the Holy Spirit showed them in their morning prayer time. A believer who has a lot of Bible knowledge and likes to share their expertise can also derail things under the radar because they are talking about scripture.
Again, we need to love this person but we can’t let them control the meeting by taking everybody down their rabbit trails. See all five points under Manage Personalities in 5 Facets of Facilitating…
3. The Problem-Fixer. This person gives advice as soon as someone opens up and shares something they’re struggling with. They usually have good intentions, but the problem-fixer doesn’t realize that they’re sub-consciously trying to make themselves feel better by giving everyone else the Sunday school answer to their problems. This can cause people in the group to shut down or create a medieval small group competition where everyone starts shining up their spiritual armor in front of each other.
Making an announcement just before you start the group discussion can be a helpful reminder to everyone to be good listeners. A specific statement about this in a small group covenant can also be effective. We want small groups to be settings where people feel heard.
4. The Withdrawn Person. This person is very quiet and rarely responds to your questions. They use their powers of observation as a safety mechanism. While there is some wisdom in that approach, the withdrawn person also doesn’t understand the value of their participation and how it will help them grow and connect.
As the host or leader, don’t be afraid to call on this person, especially during the icebreaker or on a safe question that is above the surface in nature. Also, know that the more you build relationship with the them outside of the meeting, the more comfortable they will feel responding to you during the meeting. ‘
5. The Wrong-Answer Person. This person may be a new Christian or they don’t know the Bible very well. It can be an awkward moment when a person goes on and on with a misinterpretation or a personal opinion that isn’t biblical.
The key is to let the group know you’re not endorsing their view without making the wrong-answer person feel marginalized. See my point on Offer An Explanation Afterwards in 5 Facets of Facilitating…
6. The Not-Yet Christian. This person is either checking out the Christian faith at your small group or they got coerced, forced and tricked by another Christian into coming. Their inexperience in this environment could make them a combination of any of the attributes previously listed.
If they’re confused about what you’re talking about you can always offer a more detailed explanation afterwards. Building relationship with them outside of the group meeting will help to lower any potential walls too. You might also consider giving an opportunity for people to receive Christ towards the end of the group meeting (I spell this out in detail in Leading A Person To Christ).
7. The Listening Contributor. Ahhhh….take a deep breath and then breathe a sigh of relief because this is someone you don’t have to think too hard about. This is a person who pays attention and listens thoughtfully. Their responses advance and deepen the dialogue but are concise enough that others can participate too.
First of all, you’re probably going to need at least 3 or 4 of these people in your group for it to have some sustainability (and personal sanity). Secondly, for in-depth questions or to get a conversation back on its tracks, you may call on them first when asking a new question. Lastly, if they aren’t already an assistant leader you may want to start talking to them about the possibility.
As I mentioned several times, our goal is to love everybody with the love of Christ. None of these types of people are BAD people. In fact, God is going to use these people to help you learn about your own flaws, lack of patience and selfishness. If everyone in your group were a listening contributor, how would that help you grow in loving people more? As I said before, working with people can be stressful, frustrating, scary as well as one of the most fulfilling and memorable things you can do.
Are there other personalities that come to mind as you read this? Got any blending ideas? Feel free to share them below…