4 tips for handling the current undercurrent impacting interpersonal interaction in your small groups
Small groups have been pushed, pulled, and tossed like so much, bad pizza crust.
After years of stable, in-person small groups, they were canceled without an opportunity to gracefully say goodbye. We immediately began experimenting with online meetings via a plethora of digital tools. After getting into an online meeting groove, things have changed again and we’re now in a digital middle ground called hybrid. People are on edge wondering what comes next.
With all the changes, people have become disconnected, frustrated, distrustful, angry, irritated, and depressed (1). This is a recipe for tough, chewy, even bitter small group pizza crust conversations and short-fused discussions.
When the crust is tough, the toppings don’t matter. You can have the best sausage, the most expensive mozzarella cheese, the tastiest pepperoni. But if the crust is bad, the entire pizza isn’t worth your time or money.
Does this recipe sound familiar?
1 part “Zoom fatigue” (2)
1 part Pandemic exhaustion (3)
1 part vaccine disagreement (4)
1 part mask recommendation changes (5)
1 part political polarization (6)
Mix all ingredients and bake in an overheated social media oven that makes you lonelier (7)
When you take it out of the oven, it’s immediately cold. The result is a crust that can break your teeth. It’s inflexible, hard, harsh, nasty.
As small group leaders and members are overwhelmed with this recipe, they change. People who once were the poster child of kindness will be short with people, disrespectful, unforgiving, and even hateful
A friend of mine attends a weekly small group that was the very model of a loving, accepting, gracious group that freely loved on people and welcomed new attendees. After reconvening in-person gatherings, the whole feel of the group has dramatically shifted. They are more argumentative, questioning the leader’s abilities and opinions. While everyone is glad to be back together, the level of intimacy has shallowed, while the volume and emotional volume has significantly been turned up.
Here are 4 steps to help navigate the tough pizza crust you’re experiencing in your small groups.
Step 1 – Boundaries Have Moved – You Need to Reset It
When it comes to treating people well, what was once out of bounds is now in play. Don’t assume that people realize it or have had a chance to practice their people or communication skills. Have a brief time up front to reacquaint people with how God loves us. It is His love for us that energizes us to love one another. Restate, emphasizing the need to be gracious with each other.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32 NIV
Step 2 – Believe the Feelings – You Need to Admit It
When someone tells you how they feel, don’t let logic get in the way. You may think them incorrect at best, deluded at worst. The uncomfortable truth is that’s how they feel. Instead of arguing about feelings, admit that you hear them. You may think and feel very differently than they do, but by acknowledging their fears, pain, frustrations, and feelings, you win a friend and get a chance to help them in a significant way.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires
Step 3 – Bend the Direction – You Need to Redirect It
Many people are not aware of the feelings they are expressing or igniting. As feelings rise, and the tone of the conversation gets more heated, someone needs to step in politely, but firmly. A good strategy is to say, “What you said makes me feel …“ When you fill in how their words made you feel, this opens a door where both of you can walk together. It makes an opening for clarification, lowering tension, admitting wrong, asking for forgiveness.
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
Step 4 – Block the Conversation – You Need to Stop It
There may come a time when someone keeps talking, and it’s clearly out of bounds, inappropriate, hurtful. Gossip is always one of these areas. Over and over, they persist in bringing it up. They refuse friendly, polite guidance, only to stubbornly keep talking. It is perfectly okay to break in, abruptly ending the conversation. Do not let them finish. True friendship and love will stop them from continuing in sin.
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
You may need to pray for strength. You may need to screw up your courage. But, their need to be loved to the point of your being willing to help them, even correct them, is the mark of God’s kind of love and friendship.
We need to replace tough, chewy, even bitter small group pizza crust. The new, tasty, and tender small group pizza crust will provide a delicious and nutritious meal for all.
Chet Gladkowski is the Founder of GLAD Associates, Inc. (a) and author of “Have Yourself a Merry COVID-Christmas”(b). He has also launched National Day of Hope(c). His latest book, “Hope is Like Steamed Crabs” is available on Amazon in both electronic (Kindle) and paper (d).
- Fortune, U.S. workers are not okay—and employers are usually the last to know, by Megan Leonhardt, September 20, 2021. SilverCloud Health’s 2021 Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Checkup, July 2021