Following a twitter conversation, my friend Graham sent me the following suggestions re. the topic of ‘safety in small groups’. Enjoy and if you want to follow him you can do here –

I have been really enjoying your series on Small Groups. One of the thoughts that occurred to me was the issue of safety in a small group.

If people are going to be open and honest in a small group they need to know that they are safe to do so. Safe groups can be a real blessing; I’ve also been in small groups that never got beyond the most basic of communication because no-one trusted the gossip in the group.

Within Celebrate Recovery we have a set of guidelines for small groups that we stick to quite rigorously. Because Celebrate Recovery exists to help people through their “hurts, hang-ups and habits” safety is a vital issue for us. We normally remind the group of the guidelines every week by reading through them. It’s probably not necessary for most small groups to have such a rigorous approach, but the principles behind the guidelines give a good framework for how to create a safe group.

These are the small group guidelines and some of the principles behind them:

“Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings. Limit your sharing to three to five minutes.”

One of the principles here is that people can say a lot without saying anything at all. By talking for long periods people stop others sharing. Sometimes they want to do that to stop the conversation moving beyond the level that they are comfortable with. Another way of stopping the conversation getting too personal is to talk about what others think and feel rather than talk from their own perspective.

“There is NO cross talk. Cross talk is when two individuals engage in conversation excluding all others. Each person is free to express his or her feelings without interruptions.”

People need to feel that they will get their turn to speak and to be listened too. Respect within small groups is a safety issue – if people don’t feel respected they won’t feel safe. The principle of ‘one person at a time’ is a great way of making sure that the group stays as a group without lots of side conversations.

“We are here to support one another, not ‘fix’.”

Small groups are a place to listen to one another’s thoughts and feelings; it’s not a place for issuing instructions. I’ve personally seen far too many situations where people quickly launch to an answer for someone else. These answer usually starting with “what you need to do is…”.

“Anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements. What is shared in the group stays in the group.”

Gossip has killed many a small group. If people are going to move beyond the basic sharing of facts they need to feel that what they say isn’t being repeated around the town by all sorts of people.

“Offensive language has no place in a Christ-centred recovery group.”

A large part of safety is respect and that includes respect for others in the group and also for Jesus.

Beyond the guidelines perhaps the most important point that I would make is that it’s vital for groups to agree the way that the group is going to operate. Reading through a set of guidelines every week is probably more that most groups need but I’d still encourage every small group leader to think about the guidelines that they are going to set for their group and to think about ways that they are going to communicate those guidelines.

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