In a small group discussion forum on SmallGroupChurches.com, Tim asked the following question: 

The person who has attended your church since the flood, is a little “off” (possibly has a mental disability but nobody knows for sure), and effectively signs up for every group. Upon arriving at the “new” small group, with the unsuspecting rookie leader, they begin to take over the group by rabbit trailing, aggressively directing conversation, etc. Has anyone out there ever had to deal with this? What steps have you taken?

I’ve dealt with this issue and this person … more than my fair share, I think! Here’s what I’ve learned from both the mistakes I’ve made and the few times I got it right.

I can sum up my response with two words: “tough love.” But also, you have to do what’s good for the group. It’s our job as church leaders to protect the flock. Here’s what I’ve done in my role as a small groups minister in these cases:

1. If I know this person is heading to a particular group, I call the leader and provide them with ideas in advance. The leaders deserve some fair warning, but I try really hard not to scare them.

2. In many cases I personally call the group coach and fill them in and ask them to attend a meeting or two. Usually the coaches have been familiar with this type of situation and often knows about this person.

3. After this problem has happened a few times, I meet one-on-one with the difficult person and I’ve usually had a another person or 2 involved as well. Basically this is a “boundaries” discussion. I go over what a small group is all about, what the values are, and then I try to very clearly set out the boundaries for acceptable behavior in the group. If you haven’t read the book Boundaries, as well as some of the other books in the series such as Boundaries Face to Face, these are must-reads for you as a leader!

4. If I or others on my team have talked to this person before about similar issues, we build not only boundaries but also consequences. I try to frame these in a positive way, of course. Something like, “We want you to be involved in a small group. And there are some ground rules you must follow. If you want to keep attending this group, you must abide by these.” These must be very specific.

5. I have unfortunately had to ask several people not to attend a small group until “x” has happened. Usually this involved going to Christian counseling (I even built some funds for this into my budget where I would offer to pay half of the first three visits). When the counselor says you’re ready to be in a group, we’ll help you find one. We also offer other alternatives for fellowship and learning, such as a short-term teacher-led class and weekend services. This step is especially appropriate if the person does have emotional or psychological special needs.

6. Important! Don’t ignore this person or the issues involved. They won’t just go away on their own. I try to think about it this way: If this person’s issues will keep someone from coming to Christ and having their life transformed, what would I be willing to do in love? That motivation helps me to approach this with the right perspective and motivation. 

(For more help on this subject, see Pat Sikora’s book and web site, HELP! Guide: Why Didn’t You Warn Me? I have learned a lot about this topic from Pat and this book.)

What would you add to this list? What would you do differently? What have you learned from your own experiences?


MORE ON DEALING WITH DIFFICULT ISSUES AND PEOPLE IN A SMALL GROUP

Dilbert on Dealing with Challenging People in Your Group
Dethrone These Top 10 Idols in Your Small Group!
Special Needs in Small Groups
Why Didn’t You Warn Me? (book review)

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Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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