In the early days of meeting together as a Bible study group, there can often be a sense of excitement and togetherness. People are more focused on getting to know one another than focused on their differences.
But as time goes on, your group will inevitably experience conflict at some point. As relationships deepen, people let their guard down, disagree, get on each other's nerves, or even offend one another. And yet, all of this is a completely normal part of community life.
How do you, as a Group Guide, help keep group relationships healthy over time? Especially when you have all kinds of people coming together, perhaps even on days when they aren't feeling their best. Exhausted parents, struggling spouses, stressed employees, concerned carers, and hurt church members – what situations and combinations are you navigating in your group?
Consider two strategies to apply in the early days of meeting together:
On your first or second gathering, set apart time to agree on collective expectations about how you will treat one another. If everyone contributes to this conversation, it will be easier to hold one another accountable during challenging times. Once you have a list of guidelines that everyone's happy with, make sure to share it!
Some suggestions include:
- "We will speak to one another respectfully."
- "We will ask permission before challenging someone's perspective."
- "It is ok to disagree or challenge an opinion, but we never attack the person sharing it."
Everyone communicates in different ways. Consider differences within your group: Some people use confrontation as means of connection, while others may misinterpret this as aggression. Some might lash out if they feel threatened or believe their perspective is not welcome. For others, it takes a lot of courage to voice their thoughts. Pay attention to any potential conflict points. The good news is you can anticipate and prepare for when relational dynamics disintegrate.
Next, consider four strategies to apply amid conflict and as time goes on:
- Listen Well
As a Group Guide, you need to support the right for people in the group to hold different perspectives. Listening well means accurately and calmly reflecting on what you're hearing. Often you will need to listen for the subtext of the conversation and draw that out.
2. Remain Objective
Conflict, if handled well, has the potential to deepen relationships. You are there to offer gentle reminders of the expectations your group agreed to at the start. Remember: Relational challenges do not reflect poorly on you if you courageously address them.
3. Ask for Help
If communication is breaking down in your group, get some good advice! Approach a trusted pastor, elder, or friend for insight into the challenge. If necessary, seek wise mediation for situations that appear unresolvable.
4. Evaluate Often
As the life of your group develops, continue to evaluate your group discussions. Try using the following questions:
Is the tone of our communication respectful? Regardless of the heart behind people's opinions, if people do not share in a way that honors others, you'll need to give a gentle reminder to adjust the tone.
Are Group Members moving closer together or further apart? People will not share their opinions if they do not feel safe. Has heated debate become habitual – before relationships are strong enough to bear tension? You'll need to de-escalate the discussion and move on to a different topic.
Are all points of view equally respected? If you sense intolerance among Group Members, calling for a group-wide heart attitude check may be necessary. Everyone needs to know that sharing their perspective is always valid, whether others agree with them or not.
Navigating relational challenges is a challenging task. But take heart: We worship the Prince of Peace! As you consistently seek to support your Group Members amidst conflict, always ask God to give you His peace, His patience, and His gentleness.
Remember the six practical strategies to manage conflict in your group:
…ask for help
…and evaluate often!
Looking for more? Our in-app “How to be a Guide” audio training and WordGo journal articles walk Group Guides through the essentials for impactful group Bible study. Discover how to: get your group off to a great start; create the atmosphere for discussion; prepare for discussion times, manage group dynamics; and support connected conversation.