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5 Tips for a Healthy Small Group

No one grows spiritually alone — we need to be in community. That’s why it’s important for discipleship to Jesus to include participating in a small group or soul friendship.

But small groups can be disappointing.

I’ve been in Bible studies that were heady, relationally disconnected, and had little to do with daily life. I’ve also been in church groups that were social or relationally supportive but did not give thoughtful focus to developing our relationship with God.

In the best small groups we integrate our faith and feelings — God’s word and our real lives — to become more like Jesus. That’s why I wrote a Leader Guide to help you shepherd others in a six-week group through Journey of the Soul.

A primary tool to cultivate healthy groups and relationships is empathy.

Empathy is…
Being curious and tender-hearted toward other people,
Listening for feelings, needs, and values,
Helping people form words to express their needs and prayers,
Feeling with and for people to help them feel cared for by you and God.

Empathy is not weak as some think. Let me show you how to use the power of empathy to shepherd people who present difficult behaviors that can disrupt small groups.

Here’s how empathy empowers you to deal with challenging behaviors:

1. Late for Group
Normally it’s wise and loving to start a group on time, even if some people are late. You can say to a recurring late-comer, “We missed you at the start of group.” Say this not to judge, but to express your desire for relationship and interest to understand their difficulties in getting to group.

2. Head Types
Often there are people in a group who are stuck in their head, analyzing and generating insights. You could say, “You’ve got some great ideas about this subject. What is your personal experience?”

3. Over-Talking
Some people dominate a group with their shares. They may be opinionated, verbal processors, or emotionally needy. Often the most loving thing to do for the group, as well as the person who is not letting their soul breathe, is to gently interrupt with empathy and redirection: “I understand that you feel ______________. I wish we had more time, but right now we need to hear from others.”

4. Advice-Giving, Debating, and Judging
These behaviors are hurtful to people and disruptive to the group process. With someone who is aggressive, you could say, “I hear you have some strong ideas about this. I’d like to talk with you about this after group.”

5. Shyness
People who are shy especially need warmth and friendliness from others, but they also need space to decline to share and not be judged. You can say, “We’d love to hear from you, but if you want to pass that’s fine.”

Journey of the Soul (JOTS) was ranked the #1 new release in Christian Counseling on Amazon! You’ll love this book and the companion Leader Guide. It’s a great gift for friends too. 

Post on social media, tag @SoulShepherding and #JOTSbook and we’ll share your post on our platform.


Listen to this week’s podcast: Group process is a powerful tool in growing a vibrant faith integrated with healthy emotions. Guiding people in a group journey is challenging with many different personal experiences and personalities. That’s why Bill and Kristi created a practical and helpful JOTS Leader Guide so that you can confidently shepherd your group with structure and empathy. 

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