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February 15, 2011

My Take: Giving Up on Group Members

The answer is both yes and no.


Last week we featured a blog post called Can We Give Up on a Group Member? It featured two somewhat dissimilar ways of answering that question, although I think every came to a stable consensus in the Comments section.

But I've never allowed a consensus to get in the way of me sharing my opinion. :) So here are my thoughts on the issue of "giving up" on a group member.

First, there certainly has been a lot written about this issue in the world of small groups. The main buzzwords for these individuals are "difficult people" or EGRs (extra grace required).

But to be honest, I think a lot of what has been written and produced about this subject is baloney. Or hooey. Or whatever word you prefer to use about a topic that people treat as important when it really is not.

A Quick Reminder
Here's the reality: every small group in the world today is made up of human beings. And every human being in the world today is imperfect. We are all sinful. We are all emotional. We are all unpredictable and perplexing and just a bit unstable.

In other words, we are all difficult people. We all require enormous amounts of grace.

That's why I get irritated when I hear things like, "Every group has an EGR person—and if you can't figure out who that person is, it's probably you." Because I don't like the idea of giving a small-group leader the power to point a finger at a member of the group and say, "He's the difficult one," or, "She's the EGR."

No matter our best intentions, it changes our perception of an individual when we label them in that way. They cease to be an equal member of the group in our eyes—someone to love, serve, and enjoy. Instead they become someone to manage, someone to control, or someone to avoid.

And that's a shame.

A Special Circumstance
Having said all of that, I do believe there are times when a truly difficult person joins a small group. And by "difficult" I mean someone with a legitimate psychological or personality disorder.

Some of these individuals have an extreme form of emotional neediness—they dominate entire group meetings by constantly talking about their problems, call people at odd hours, and/or attempt to reach an uncomfortable level of intimacy with members of the group. Others are incapable of functioning normally in social situations (including people with Asperger's Syndrome and other forms of autism). Still others suffer from conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, depression, addiction, and mental illness.

If you encounter one of these individuals in your small group, it is highly unlikely that the group will be able to handle them. You certainly won't be able to "fix" them.

These situations call for help from a church staff member. And yes, if the issues can't be resolved, or if group members are beginning to feel threatened in any way, then it may be necessary to ask the person in question to stop attending the group. That is the last option that should be explored, but it is an option.

That's my opinion, anyway. What do you think?

posted by Sam O'Neal on February 15, 2011 9:17 AM

Related Tags: Difficult people, EGR


If a Church is not teaching their leaders the importance of not being rude, rudeness is probaby a real problem in their Small Groups. Their Small Groups are probably running off more people than they attract...

These disordely persons also need friends. Even the group cannot "fix" them, perhaps they may learn to lovingly set some borders to their disturbing behavior and learn not to be offended by this behaviors. Well, if the person cannot at all take part in the vision and aim of the group, he/she may need another group that fits him/her needs better.

My challenge as the small groups pastor is helping small group leaders who report that their groups are falling apart because of a single member. Often challenging/difficult people rob the group of the time and energy it has to connect, bond, and grow together as a group. Most small group leaders don't have good people management skills or good conflict management skills and are limited in their ability to coach or address personality issues. I've unfortunately seen too many groups fade away because the group or the leader couldn't handle the energy needed to make space for challenging/difficult people. It seems like too much to require of volunteers. So, what should I tell my leaders?
Pastor & Lead Developer
Community Center for Churches

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