Small Group Leader: Are You Speaking Their Language?

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Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who did not speak or understand your language?

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many countries around the world. I’ve been to several countries in Europe, the Middle East, the Philippines, and Japan. During each visit, I encountered situations that I needed to communicate to someone who didn’t speak my language.

What did I do?

I learned a few key words and phrases before arriving in the country. I tried to describe things with my hands. I pointed to objects and pictures. But it took a long time to communicate simple things. Some people didn’t have much patience in the situation.

Leading a small group can provide similar challenges.

Language Barriers in Small Group

I lead small groups that are open. New people join at any time. Members leave due to life change and in pursuit of new directions God takes them. The group membership is dynamic, especially between semesters.

I consider it important to show members that I love them and to provide a safe group environment for them to grow. But it seems like I’m more effective at connecting with them during some semesters than others. I discovered that one of the main reasons is that I was communicating in the same language every semester while the languages of the members changed.

I naturally communicate in the language I prefer and understand the best. But it isn’t about me. To be effective, I need to communicate in the language of my current members. I need to abandon my preferred language if it isn’t understood by others.

I’m not talking about the languages we speak. I’m talking about other languages that are just as important in a small group.

What are some of the languages group leaders need to communicate with? Practicing the following three types of languages will benefit your group tremendously:

Love Languages

If you want to demonstrate your love and appreciation to your members, you need to do it using the love language of each member.

Dr. Gary Chapman identified five love languages in his book The 5 Love Languages. The five languages are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Acts of service
  • Tangible gifts
  • Physical touch

The book focuses on applying the languages for couples. It is easily adaptable to others. However, if adapting love languages like physical touch to your small group makes you nervous, Dr. Chapman teamed up with Dr. White and adapted the languages to the workplace in their book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace”.

Communicate love to your members in their language and they will feel it.

Learning Languages

Learning comes in a variety of ways. Each of us can prefer one way over another. We need to be careful to communicate in ways that will maximize the learning of our members.

Although we may have a preference of one learning language (or style) over another, the best learning comes when all of them are incorporated.

There are several learning models that can help define the styles that need to be used. One popular model, VARK, was developed by Neil Fleming. Find ways to incorporate all of these learning languages into your Bible studies:

  • Visual – Learn through seeing
  • Auditory – Learn through listening
  • Read/write – Learn through reading and writing
  • Kinesthetic – Learn through experiencing

This is one of the reasons I like to use video-enhanced studies with workbooks. But there other ways to include these learning languages in your Bible studies. Be intentional and creative as your group learns and grows.

Worship Languages

If you want your members to feel closest to God during your group gatherings and activities, a way of igniting that is to allow them to exercise their worship language.

I have friends who feel closest to God when they are worshiping through music. Others when they are buried in the study of Scripture. For me, it is when I find myself at an ocean beach or out hiking with nature.

These worship languages are called spiritual temperaments by Gary Thomas. He describes nine spiritual temperaments in his book Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God.

The nine temperaments are:

  • Naturalists — love God best outdoors
  • Sensates — love God best through their senses
  • Traditionalists — love God best through church traditions
  • Ascetics — love God best in solitude/simplicity
  • Activists — love God best through fighting for godly principles/values
  • Caregivers — love God best by serving others
  • Enthusiasts — love God best through mystery and celebration
  • Contemplatives — love God best through adoration
  • Intellectuals — love God best when understanding something new about God

Find ways to include these temperaments into some of your small group gatherings and activities.

Start Communicating in Different Languages

Each of us was uniquely made by God. I am happy about that. The world would be boring and scary if everyone was exactly like me.

If you want to connect better with your group members and encourage them to be more like Jesus, find ways they will receive love, learning, and worship that matches with the unique person God created them to be.

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