10 Small Group Practices
10 Practices for Leading a Couples Bible Study
A few weeks ago we ended our fall marriage class. This class is aimed at couples that need to rebuild their marriage and it contains an hour presentation and then an hour of small group discussion.
I asked one couple what they liked about the class. They said, “It feels so good to know we aren’t alone. Other couples struggle with the same things that we do. Before the class, I sometimes wondered if we were the only ones.”
I’ve heard this over and over again. It’s easy to think that you are the only couple that struggles in their marriage. Having a safe place to be honest about those struggles is very healing.
Small groups can be very healing. The catch is that you need to create an atmosphere that is safe, transparent, open and non-judgmental.
Here are 10 tips for your marriage small group.
1. Be Transparent
The group leader sets the tone for open dialog. It helps if you are open about your own struggles with your marriage. If you aren’t open and transparent, the participants will find it more difficult to do so.
Michelle and I always start out a group by talking about our own marriage struggles. We want to make it OK to be struggling.
If you can do this, it reduces the fear that someone will be judged for having problems. It reduces the shame and helps to set a great atmosphere.
Once, Michelle and I finished giving our opening talk in a class where we go into our own struggles. A gentleman stopped me after class and explained how he didn’t know what this class was going to be like. He decided that he would come without his wife and check it out. If it appeared to be judgy or preachy, he wouldn’t be back. He ended up returning with his wife for the rest of the class.
2. Create Safety
We start a group by talking about rules of confidentiality. This is meant to be a safe place to be real.
We talk to small groups about how rare it is to be able to be open with others that may be struggling.
I’ll often say something like, “Where else can you go and be honest about what you are struggling with?”
I’ve noticed that if couples don’t feel safe, they won’t open up. Sometimes, it takes a few sessions to develop trust.
I always recognize and thank people when they are open and honest, especially when it’s a first time. Eventually, this can become the atmosphere of the group.
3. Expect Emotions
Don’t be surprised if someone is emotional. Opening up to someone can be a difficult experience. Marriage relationship issues can be very personal. It’s not uncommon for someone to express anger, sadness, bitterness, etc.
I always validate their emotions and thank them for being honest.
We always have tissue available.
4. Be VERY VERY Slow in Offering Advice
This is one of the top challenges for mentors. It’s far better for someone to come to their own conclusions than being told what to do.
Advice at the wrong time is not only not helpful, it can come across as judgmental.
5. Validate Feelings
You lead by example. When someone expresses feelings, be sure to validate them.
I’ll say something like, “That sounds like it was very frustrating, is that right?”
6. Be Patient with Poor Speaker and Listener Skills
It’s normal for couples to not be very good about following good speaker or listener skills. The couple may talk about all of their issues and complaints about their partner, often with a great deal of blame.
We set up a group rule early on to only speak for yourself. We ask them to use “I” statements. Honestly, this can be tough for people. Be patient and compassionate with them.
We wait until we have taught concepts on validation before we become more directive.
7. Focus the Group on Relationship Struggles
A couples bible study can help people to work on their relationship. If you only stick to the biblical concepts, you may not get application to where people live.
If you have a mixed group of happily married couples and struggling couples, it’s easy for the struggling couples to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Sometimes, in this type of group, the healthier couples will dominate the conversation and the group won’t be honest.
Explain that your interest is in a safe environment and that you want honest healing to come from the group. So, it’s OK to share your struggles.
8. Marriage Problems are Normal
None of us get a manual on how to be married. Almost one-third of married couples are struggling in their relationship. Anger, resentment, disconnection and even affairs are very common issues.
I explain that these are very normal issues. It’s easy to be embarrassed or ashamed when you have problems.
Healing comes when we start to be honest with ourselves and others.
9. Focus on Goals
Some couples will have a specific purpose for attending. You can ask couples if there is something specific that they want to achieve. They may or may not have a good idea what that is.
Keep track of their goal. You can use that to remind the couple on the improvements that they would like to achieve. For example, someone may want to work on their communication and conflict management.
When we get into topics, such as validation, we link it back to how it will help with the goal of better communication.
10. Focus on Marriage Education
Mentors aren’t necessarily therapists. If you are not a professional counselor, you can still be very effective.
Your role is marriage education. You are coaching the couples on how to apply key concepts in having a healthy marriage. Your job is to help the couple apply those concepts.
When in doubt, stick to the key concepts.