All groups need a designated leader to coordinate the group’s meeting time and to facilitate the group process. Without a leader’s direction group members find it difficult to reach consensus and make decisions expediently. So it is important that all designated leaders know how to facilitate a group’s communication process.
Some leaders are gifted when it comes to one-way communication. They easily convey what they perceive are appropriate actions. Unfortunately, one-way communication is not in leadership’s best interest—or the group’s! The group as a whole must support the visions, go by the policies, and be willing to activate the plans—or these management modes are useless.
Back to Basics
Communication is the sending and receiving of information and ideas. As you know, getting a group of people to share meaning and agree to something is hard work. So leaders must present information in ways that group members will listen to and understand. This requires constant feedback between themselves and group members. The more communications involve suggestion of change, the more time it takes to get group members to buy into the leader’s vision.
In Matthew 13:51 Jesus asked the disciples if they understood His explanations. Likewise Sabbath School teachers and other small group leaders must speak simply and then ask, in some fashion, whether the group has understood them. Without the feedback looping between the leader and among members of the group, communication has not occurred.
The problem is time—especially in a group larger than 7-10 members. A leader who does not have the patience to bring everyone to the same point of understanding will find that settling conflicts and misunderstandings within the group will use even more time—and more energy.
Manage the Flow
Most people prefer to work with leaders who create an environment in which they can openly and honestly share their ideas and experiences. Leaders must learn to manage the flow of group communication to ensure that all members have an opportunity to share.
Often one or more individuals in a small group attempt to monopolize the conversation. Sensitive leaders use verbal hints and nonverbal clues to maintain the flow of conversation while allowing these individuals their turn in the group dialogue. However, if domineering members do not take these attempts seriously, leaders must address the issue with them outside the group setting.
On the other end of the spectrum are group members who must be drawn into the conversation. These members may come from homes in which their opinions were never valued, or their group contributions in the past resulted in embarrassment or ridicule. Or they may be people who contribute best to the group by being excellent listeners. Generally when the more silent members of a group do say something, their information and ideas are very significant and should not be overlooked by a leader.
When leaders maintain a communication environment that flows smoothly, members sense that they are working with leaders they can respect and who will try to bring out the best in each of them.
Heaven and Earth
The story of the very first power struggle occurred in heaven, and Satan still wins when “brothers” or “sisters” ignore one another, at best, or speak less than civilly to one another on Sabbath morning. Can you imagine people wanting to join a group that exudes this type of tension? Sibling rivalry in church is not God’s plan for His people.
Recently I was part of a telephone research team that talked with local church leaders to discover what they are doing in their ministries and to learn how the denomination can best assist them. The majority of elders I talked to reported that there were fewer people attending church than were listed in the membership records. However, one man’s enthusiasm for his church caught my attention. He is the first elder of a 75-member church that had significantly more than 75 people attending each Sabbath.
I was drawn to this elder’s word picture of his church family: “We are unified as a congregation and we work well together. Everyone pitches in and we have fun at church.”
Talk About This!
What kind of pictures do your small group communications paint? Does your leadership facilitate group communications that will hold your members and attract people to your group? If not, why not? The issues in this article provide fuel for a productive brainstorming session with other Sabbath School superintendents, teachers, and students.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists