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January 26, 2012

Are There Really EGR Group Members?

Sam O'Neal shares why he changed his mind


In our most recent digizine, Troubleshooting, Sam O'Neal wrote an article on his new view of EGR group members. In "The Blessing of Problem People," Sam shares how he's changed his mind on this popular acronym. Check out what he says below.

Everybody loves acronyms—from TGIF to LOL to BLT and beyond. In the world of small-group ministry, the most common acronym I've come across has to be EGR. As in "extra grace required."

The idea is that most people within a small group are "normal" and able to function well within the life of the group. But then there are other people—EGR people—who behave abnormally, and are even potentially dangerous to the community. Therefore the group can only function well if the normal folks use a little extra grace in order to tolerate the "problem people."

I used to be on board with that kind of thinking. I used to laugh whenever I heard someone say, "Every small group has an EGR person—and if you can't figure out who that person is in your group, it's probably you!" Har har.

But I have repented of that notion in recent years because of an important realization: every small group in the world is made up entirely of imperfect human beings. 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 "problem people." We all require enormous amounts of grace.

So what do you think? Should we get rid of the term, or does it hold some value?

To read the rest of the article, click here.

posted by Amy Jackson on January 26, 2012 8:00 AM

Related Tags: Digizine, Digizine excerpt, EGR, Group dynamics, Sam O'Neal


True, all of us in small groups are imperfect people. I love the title of the book by John Ortberg: Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them. And small group leaders need to realize that. But the whole idea behind EGRs is simply th realization that you will have members in your group who need a little extra care and grace. Leaders need to be prepared for folks who come to a group and are socially inept, awkward, or unaware. Some of these people can become healthy members of a group when a leader understands how to help them as well as the group to function in healthy ways. But then there are those who may not be able to function well in a group until they get the help they need. In fact, such people can do harm to the community. So it is important for leaders to be prepared. Pat Sikora's book, Why Didn't You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging Group Members (Standard Publishing, see is the best book I know of for leaders on this topic.

EGR is not intended to be a label for certain people or a reason to treat them badly. Just the opposite. It's intended to help leaders lead healthy groups, help people grow in their relationships with God, and deal with the challenges that come along the way.

Thanks for the kind words, Mike. In addition to my book, which really is a great resource for leaders dealing with challenging people, I have an article on "Why Didn't You Warn Me?" ( called "The Challenge of Challenging People." It's a free download. One thing I've found effective when dealing with several challenging people is to create a very small group to teach them to be more effective group members. It's not perfect, but I have seen some progress. The key, I've learned, is consistency and continuity. Most EGRs will show some improvement and growth when they are in a group and being loved into wholeness. But they are more susceptible than most to the group ending or splitting. They will revert quickly. So make sure that if you commit to them, you are willing to stay. And meanwhile, check out that plank in your own eye...

Good comments, Pat. I think you're last comment about the plank is a very good one in regards to Amy's blog post and Sam's article. My point is that by leaders talking about EGRs, we're not saying we don't all need some extra grace as well, it's just necessary for us to recognize and be prepared for challenging people. But we should never minimize them or treat them as objects. That's why I love your writing on this topic, Pat. You see challenging people (or EGRs) as people dearly loved by God and worthy of respect and love. But you also draw good boundaries to protect the group and help the group to be healthy.

Group health is a topic I've done a lot thinking, research, and writing about over the last several years. Our church, Northeast Christian in Louisville, took a couple years to assess the health of our groups, and we learned so much from that process. My new book, Small Group Vital Signs, came out of that learning. In Chapter 5 on Healthy Community, I make the point that a very unhealthy person can make an otherwise healthy group very unhealthy very fast. Since people grow spiritually in healthy community, leaders need to be aware of and prepared for this. I mentioned Pat's writing in that Chapter as a great resource for dealing with this in healthy, God-honoring ways that helps both the group and the individual.

BTW, if you're interested in Small Group Vital Signs, it will be released any day now. Go to for more information.

Mike, I agree. I've seen groups fall apart when the EGRs are not handled well. And I've seen many EGRs become healthy, contributing members when shown consistent love and grace, coupled with strong boundaries. The other thing I've seen, especially in singles ministries, is that when we reach a critical mass of needy versus healthy members, the healthy ones leave quickly, resulting in a group that can't sustain itself. It's critical that leaders stay alert for this dynamic. I've posted many helpful articles at

I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing your book!

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