In the military servicemen have “rules of engagement,” which determine when they may attack the enemy. In a small group, it is important to have rules for engagement, which help foster a quality and safe conversation. Part of the idea for this article comes from Common Courtesies: Small Group Rules to Follow by Amy Nappa, and part from my experience.
The purpose of these rules is to fostering trust, courtesy, and fairness. A small group does not need to be over-structured, but there does need to be structure, kindness, and fairness to keep everyone feeling safe, heard, and taking part. These rules are also good for other types of meetings, such as at work.
1. The Vegas Rule.
This rule is at the top of my list because without it in this type of small group, no one will come back if we violate it. If you remember the old tourism commercials for Las Vegas, you know it already: “what happens or in group, stays in group. In a healthy small group, people share private and emotional topics. Topics they would discuss nowhere else because they are embarrassing, emotional, or private. This rule applies to “we need to pray for Bob, because I heard he said [fill in the blank] in men’s group.” This is sin, and there is no place for it in the church.
2. The John Wimber Rule
John Wimber was the founder of the Vineyard Church movement. He was famous for saying “everybody gets to play,” referring to everyone in the church being encouraged to exercise their spiritual gifts, not just pastors.
In my version of this rule, I specify we should encourage everyone in the group to take part and share, provided they want to. When I do sharing time, I make sure we go around the room and ask every single person if they have something to say. It could be something difficult, like confessing recent or past sins, or easy like saying how blessed they feel because of positive things happening in their lives. If they are shy or don’t think they have something to say that’s okay, but we should afford everyone an opportunity. Everyone gets to play.
3 The Shut Up and Listen Rule
I don’t have a good name for this rule because it is simple. When someone else is in their time for sharing, it is important to let them talk and not interrupt. First, it is common courtesy. Second, people can share things that are difficult, and we need to let them be patient and get them out.
When someone finishes, if you have a brief word of encouragement for them or prayer, that is when it is appropriate to say something. But we need to not interrupt or give advice.
4 The Manners Rule
I hope this one is pretty obvious but please, be kind when people share. The only thing worse than gossiping about what someone said in a group is making someone feel bad when they share. Laughing at something someone did or happened to them, making fun of them, or criticizing will ruin a group dynamic.
Remember the group should be fun, and there should be humor, even guys giving guys a hard time like we do, but it has to be appropriate.
5 The Parliament Rule
There are going to be disagreements in any group discussion. No one except the Good Lord Himself has everything all figured out, and everyone is going to have differing opinions on certain topics. This is perfectly fine, in fact it makes the group discussion more interesting. But we must disagree in a friendly manner.
As a group leader, if someone gets agitated because of an opinion, it is important for you to turn down the temperature. Remind people that other opinions are valid and stop any name calling or abuse in its tracks. In my experiences I have not seen this problem much, as the Holy Spirit has guided the conversation, but it can happen.
The Cell Phone Rule
My last rule is for electronic devices. When someone is in the middle of sharing a hard story or topic, the last thing they need is to be interrupted by a loud ringtone. I like to ask everyone at the beginning of the meeting to take their phones out and hold them, then ask them to check and make sure they are at least on vibrate or preferably on “do not disturb.” This may be a little obnoxious or over the top, but it prevents people from assuming their device is in one of these modes.
Using these rules over the years has allowed us to have great discussions, times of sharing, and build wonderful Christian relationships. If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.