Some small groups flow as smoothly as a river, while others seem more awkward than a middle school yearbook. Most groups are a mixture of the two, with quality interactions broken by occasional moments of awkwardness.
Awkward moments are not a sign that you are failing as leader or that the small group is not meant to be. These are natural and occur in almost every social setting occasionally. It is important for group leaders, regardless of the nature of the group, to be prepared for these occasions and have a solid plan to get discussion back on track in a natural fashion. The following five situations seem to be the most common causes of church group awkwardness and can be easily dealt with if you are prepared.
1. Deafening Silence
Some silences are reflective while others seem to hang heavy in the air. The first step to dealing with an awkward silence is to evaluate whether it is actually as awkward or as long as you perceive it to be. Sometimes people just need a moment to think! If the silence truly has gone past the time frame in which it feels organic, simply move on to the next topic. If appropriate, make a joke about the silence, such as, “I think we’ve beaten that dead horse beyond its natural end. Now, about question four…”
2. Theological Differences
Small groups involve a great deal of discussion. Sometimes, however, this discussion can take a negative turn when two or more members disagree about a theological point that is very important to them. This is even more awkward when one or both members are making claims contrary to the established theology of your church.
If both people have had a chance to make their point, the leader should politely acknowledge both viewpoints and move on. You can move on by asking other opinions or simply going to a new topic. If necessary, state the preferred interpretation of your church – but never berate a member for having a different viewpoint. This is a chance to educate them about why your denomination has certain views, not a trial for heresy. However, if a member consistently argues with and challenges your church’s theology in a way that interferes with the spiritual growth of other members, they may need to be encouraged to find a new small group.
3. New People
New people always feel awkward in an established group. For this reason, you should have a proactive plan to bring them into the fold and make the experience less intimidating. If necessary, your group can be primed on how to approach newcomers so the members can be as welcoming as possible. New members are inevitable if your group is a place for insightful Bible study and discipleship. Preparing for new members is preparing for success.
4. Inappropriate Language
Inappropriate language is not just swearing and cursing; it can include insults, gossip, offensive talk, racism, and other words that are not befitting a child of God. When these things happen, take steps to return the group to its original subject. Bring up an interesting point about the reading or otherwise redirect conversation.
After the group, talk to the offender in a kind and open manner about why you feel their words were not appropriate for a Christian. Avoid scolding but be firm about the ground rules of speech in your small group. As directed in the Bible, talk to them alone at first and only involve other people if they do not repent and make a sincere effort to toe the line. This accountability and gentle push toward positive change is an important part of discipleship.
5. Lack of Preparation
Maybe your members came to small group unprepared. Perhaps even you failed to prepare for a meeting due to procrastination or life circumstances. This can lead to a great deal of embarrassment. If a member is unprepared, simply let other members contribute instead. If you are unprepared, apologize and explain the situation, then ask if anyone else would like to lead group today. If you or other members are often unprepared, consider finding a new way to disseminate materials such as StudyChurch. Technology can reduce how often you have to deal with this particular awkward moment.
Awkward moments are not awkward for long if the leader of the group has a plan to get the Bible study back on course. These tips should help you to quickly deal with uncomfortable circumstances in a way that keeps your community productive and honors the Lord.