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Small group discussion: ground rules

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Does your small group have ground rules?
All relationships have ground rules. Small groups are no exception.

Even if you have not formally established the ground rules for your group, members likely perceive a set of guidelines. Unfortunately, conflict can result when different people have different ideas about what conduct is expected in any group, including a Bible study. In general, small groups and other church groups are more fruitful when rules are not unspoken.

So what are the basic ground rules that you should have for your small group? This will vary between different groups, but the following five are a good baseline.

1. What happens in small group stays in small group.
People often share extremely personal information in small groups. This is generally a good thing, as it builds bonds and helps leaders in the discipleship of their community. However, this can go awry if people share this confidential information. Even if the information is not used for gossip, it still can make members reticent to talk about their challenges and other personal information. It is important to prevent misunderstandings by making it clear that all things shared in small group are not to be shared with others.

2. Everyone gets a turn.
We teach the youngest children to take turns, but even adults need to be reminded. It is important that no one in your small group community dominate conversation and also that every share their thoughts. If you have members who are more comfortable sharing when not in face to face discussions, consider getting a program such as StudyChurch. This allows more introverted members to contribute in ways they find more comfortable and also lets people who came unprepared get a chance to review material before weighing in.

3. Don’t take disagreements personally.
The most fruitful small groups often involve lively debate. However, this requires disagreement. Group members should be prepared to disagree in a polite and constructive way. The flip side of this is that they should be open to hearing people disagree with them. Doing this in a polite way is not just a great way to learn about different interpretations of God’s Word, but practice for success in real life as well.

4. Respect each others’ time.
There is a reason people are angered when others are late; if it happens often, it implies that the latecomer does not respect other people’s time. Similarly, forcing group to stay late shows a lack of respect for time. People in the modern world have a variety of commitments, so respect their time by always beginning and ending on time.

5. Do unto others.
The Golden Rule is one of the most important rules for all interaction. It’s important that members use common courtesy and show respect for each other. Everyone should feel respected and heard in a community of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

These are just the basic ground rules, so feel free to add others that are specific to the needs of your community. Setting ground rules will make your small groups go much more smoothly. Members will understand what is expected of them and how they can make the experience better both for themselves and others around.

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