Friday, July 1, 2016

Small Group Dynamics - Convenience vs. Commitment

Again this week, I’d like to share an observation I have made re: small group dynamics. Many people lament that their large group lacks the depth of commitment they desire, while others are very happy with their group’s depth, but wish it were larger. I have found that this tension is quite proper and that it is not a problem to solve, rather it’s a tension to be managed.

My thoughts about managing this tension are quite simple. If you want a more highly committed group, make it less convenient, and expect its numbers to be smaller. If you want a larger group, make it more convenient and expect its commitment level to be lesser. To expect a larger group to be greater in commitment is usually unrealistic.

Larger numbers / Lower commitment / More convenience, or Smaller numbers / Higher commitment / Less convenience. You are free to choose.

For around twenty years I led a small FCA group of high school student athletes that met at 6:30 am in a local restaurant. The owner allowed us into the dining room thirty minutes prior to the restaurant’s opening. Our group’s size varied from 6-40 in attendance across those years and a few times the kids asked if we could meet a little later. I always declined to move the time because the key to the group’s high commitment level was that its inconvenience.

On the other end of the scale, we have helped FCA huddle coaches to start and lead small groups in public schools for twenty-two years. Most of them want to grow the group as large as it can be. Given that goal, I normally counsel them to design the group to be as convenient as possible in terms of time, location, and day of the week to fit their intended participants. In addition, I counsel them that, “If you feed them, they will come.” Hosting the FCA huddle meetings during the lunch hour of a closed campus is about the perfect storm for a large group. Given that many of those in attendance are thinking with their stomachs, they came for the lunch, the commitment level is significantly lower than some would like. This is normal and proper.

As you consider the small groups you lead or those you would like to start, give careful consideration to your goals for the group. Do you prefer larger numbers or deeper commitment?
·        If you are aiming for larger numbers in attendance, be sure to make it convenient, fun, approachable, and understand that the group’s commitment level will stay at the shallow end of the pool. Program your content to fit your group’s commitment level.
·        If you would like a higher commitment level among your participants, make it less convenient in terms of timing and location, understand that you won’t likely get a large number to attend, but be sure to deliver content matching the desired commitment level. You can expect that they will follow you as deeply as you dare swim. Never compromise on commitment or they will get bored and disappear.

You can wisely manage the tension between group size and commitment level, if you will design and lead the group with these factors in mind. You are free to lead the group whichever way you perceive to be best for their development in the Lord Jesus. In many cases, a leader will develop two groups, one designed for the shallow end of the pool, the other built for treading water at the deep end. The best answer may not be in an either / or solution, but in a both / and design.

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