When you’re starting your small group, it’s very important to focus on first things first. The first item on this list, of course, would be expectations. Just like in any relationship, we all have unspoken expectations. The more we keep them to ourselves the more we endanger the small group. Disappointments can easily lead to discouragements, which in turn can lead to disengagement, which would be fatal to the group. Many small groups do not last simply because they do not tackle the hard work of discussing expectations. So right from the beginning, discuss expectations. There are three kinds of expectations to discuss.
- Personal Expectations – These expectations pertain to the positive or negative expectations of each member of the group. It would be very helpful to discuss them right upfront. What does each member expect from the group as a group, and also from each member, including the leader? Let each person in the group speak out in order for everyone to know and address any concerns, if necessary. Of course, you must be sensitive (if you are the leader), because some members may not be that assertive to speak out. They would rather keep it to themselves, which is less than ideal. But you must anticipate that sooner or later it would come out. So you may have to wait for conflicts and misunderstandings later on, in order to identify and discuss these unspoken expectations. However identifying personal boundaries early on will always help a group to start off on the right footing. So, as much as possible, encourage the group to pursue this agenda as soon as possible.
- Group Expectations – These expectations are the ground rules for the group. What must you agree on to become a healthy small group? You may have to agree on meeting times, places, and other administrative matters. You may have to agree on communication strategies (or how you will communicate with each other). You may have to agree on how you will process misunderstandings (if they do arise, which of course will happen). You may not be able to address every possible issue that can affect the group, but it’s important to orient the group about important expectations right from the beginning. Make sure that the group is open to the possibility of discussing other matters as the need arises. More importantly, you may need to agree on ground rules that can protect the group from external or internal dangers. For example, you may agree on the following items: 1) No borrowing of money or using the group to make business dealings, 2) No false doctrine, or allowing “unknown” teachers to come in and teach the group without authorization from the leadership of the church, and 3) No divisive talks or conversations that can endanger the unity of the body. You may need more than one meeting to discuss and agree on these matters. Everyone must be aware that it is their responsibility to keep the group healthy and strong.
- Leader’s Expectations – These will be the particular and peculiar expectations of the small group leader that may be unique to him or her. Every leader is different. He or she needs to define his or her leadership boundaries, such as: 1) his or her expectations concerning meeting time (i.e. absences, tardiness, etc.), 2) his or her expectations concerning group decisions, and 3) his or her expectations concerning problems or problem solving. The small group leader must be honest enough to express his or her expectations for the group, so that there will be no misunderstandings later on. Discussing leadership boundaries will help the group as a group to start on the right footing.
For a group to be healthy and strong, right from the very beginning, the small group leader, with the help of every member, must open up and discuss these three types of expectations. This is, after all, the first of first things first that each small group must grapple with.