Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 2, Lesson 3a
Establishing a Clear Contract
with the Group Leader and with One Another
what the group does to get started correctly
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
The most complicated subtask of starting a group correctly is that of establishing the set of agreements that form a contract.
This contract is not legal. But the word "contract" is important to help group members realize that they are doing something very important by forming the group and committing to the group purpose. Just the formation of the contract takes the group out of the category of all those activities that are optional and less important.
THE OFFER OF SERVICE: WHAT HAPPENS BEFORE A COLLECTION OF PEOPLE CONSIDER GROUP MEMBERSHIP TOGETHER
Before a collection of people gathers to consider becoming a group, the group leader needs to decide in a general way just what kind of group he or she wants to run, based on his or her mission or assignment from God. Does the leader want to help a group build a bridge, help kids get jobs, or start a business? In a church, does the leader want to help a group live personal lives more obediently, operate a summer Bible school, or take care of church property?
Once his or her purpose to lead is defined, then the leader has to understand the people he or she hopes to attract to join this kind of group. How do they think and feel? How can the group purpose be offered in such a way as to best motivate people to join? This process can be called "tuning in", like tuning in a radio station for clear reception.
If the people to be in the group or on the team are already identified (the elders of a church or the volunteers to do the sound ministry), then the leader tries to "tune in" to them and determine the motivations, thoughts and feelings of these people.
From this analysis of likely group members, a successful group leader forms what might be called an Offer of Opportunity. ("How would you all like to get together to . . . [accomplish whatever]?") It is designed around the group purpose the leader wants to propose. This process of tuning in and defining an enticing offer of group endeavor takes place before the people gather as a collection of people to see what the leader has to offer.
To say it a different way to increase understanding, this Offer of Opportunity, this statement of what the group might work at accomplishing (its purpose), is carefully designed to draw people into a group for a specific purpose. For recruitment purposes, it is what is communicated. Prior tuning in allows the Offer to likely be something the people really want. The Offer is made in their language, tied to what they identify as their needs, and is in line with the kind of group the leader desires.
For example, quite some time ago I used our church bulletin to attract men in our church to a discipleship group. I spent considerable time tuning in to how the men of the church might think about where they wanted to go with their lives and how they felt about following Christ.
First, I decided what kind of group I wanted to lead. I wanted to disciple rather than teach or entertain. Second, I tried to accurately size up the approximately 75 men of our church. I hoped a few would be interested in an Offer of Opportunity that I would publish in our church bulletin. It read something like this: "Elder Dick Wulf is offering a group for men who want to see dramatic change in their walk with God. The group will begin looking at the life of Jesus Christ with the group purpose being to help one another become more like Jesus Christ in all our roles and activities so that God is glorified and our lives become more successful from a biblical perspective. The group will meet on Thursday evenings from 8 to 10 pm. Membership will require taking a job of service in our church and, if married, having wives fill out an inventory about you. To come to an informational meeting where you can find out more and then decide whether or not to join the group, contact Dick Wulf." Within a week, ten men showed interested and all of them (13% of the men in our church) joined the group for in-depth discipleship.
Here is one more example of developing and proposing an Offer of Opportunity. Imagine that as an elder in my church I have the task of forming a leadership team to start a single adults program. I look through the church directory and, with God's help through prayer, identify the individuals who might be qualified to be on the leadership team. Then I go to work thinking about each of these people and what is going on in their lives. Soon I come up with an Offer of Service. I use it when I call each person on the telephone to invite to be on the team that will start this important ministry for singles. I call and say, "Our church really wants to serve the many singles who attend our services. We want to begin a singles program. In thinking about people who could powerfully serve the Lord in getting this off the ground, I thought of you. (And here comes the Offer of Oportunity to serve.) How would you like to join a group of people to be the initial leadership team of this singles program? It would be a significant thing to do for the Lord. Working with others, you will have the satisfaction of really loving people and helping, offering this as service and praise to the Lord. Would you be willing to come to a meeting to discuss the singles program and find out if you would like to join the leadership team?"
BACK TO THE FIRST SUBTASK OF STARTING A GROUP: CONTRACTING WITH THE LEADER AND EACH OTHER TO FORM A GROUP WITH A SPECIFIC PURPOSE
The group’s first job is to form a clear contract (set of agreements) with each other. Before this set of agreements is established, a group or team does not really exist.
This "contracting process" starts off with the group leader proposing a group purpose. This purpose is something that the group leader wants to help a group of people work toward accomplishing, sometimes defined by the group leader's job or organizational purpose. This is actually presenting the Offer of Opportunity.
For example, a group leader hoping to begin a group with the purpose of deeper Christian community, might start off by saying to those who have responded to the Offer of Opportunity and are now in the room together, "How would you like to form a group that meets weekly for the purpose of helping one another live for Christ in everyday life and also give Him what he wants when Christians get together?"
So, this kicks off the process of beginning a group. The people in the room are merely a collection of people at this point. The group leader then helps the collection of people carefully consider the proposed purpose to see if together they want to join the group by committing to work on the adopted purpose with the group leader’s help.
The importance of this commitment to the purpose and to one another cannot be over-emphasized! You will see in this training that it is the purpose that guides the group's efforts and determines what is useful and what is not. The commitment to purpose is the most important aspect of a group's behavior. All of the individuals need to commit to that purpose. Then, the group as a whole has to commit to the purpose, meaning that all the individuals agree to work together and help one another so that work toward accomplishing the purpose will take place and be the primary reason they are together.
Sometimes the group leader may need to help the collection of people modify the proposed purpose to something that more accurately meets the needs of the potential group members. The wording might need to be somewhat changed to better connect what the group members want to do with what the leader sees as his or her purpose. Or perhaps the time of the meeting or the frequency of meetings needs to be changed, if they are incorporated into the Offer of Opportunity.
Of course, the purpose must still remain one for which the group leader will commit his or her help because it is still within what God has called him or her to do.
At this point, those considering the group for the stated purpose decide "yes" or "no". Those who decide they do not want to be in the group leave. Those who decide to further consider what it means to join such a group or team, stay.
Once people agree to the group purpose, the leader helps them count the cost of actually joining the group.
Group or team leaders who want to empower the soon-to-be group or team will ask those assembled in this first meeting what they think need to be the individual and group-as-a-whole responsibilities of being in such a group.
A lengthy discussion would likely follow. It should definitely address whether or not confidentiality is necessary, to what extent what is said and done in the group cannot be told outside of the group. This, of course, will vary with the nature of the group purpose.
Then, in light of all that has been said, the successful group leader would ask the people to decide what should be the privileges and benefits of being in the group. Within the above stated purpose, they might mention more faithful prayer lives, more obedient lives, better relationships with others, deeper Christian friendships, support for dealing with a non-Christian world, and friendliness.
Next, the people decide who can be a member of the group -- who should receive the privileges and benefits just listed. The group leader, even team leader, should know that ultimately the group as a whole decides who is to be a member of the group or team. Through unfriendliness and gossip, for example, they can drive people away from the group or drive people to minimal participation in a mandatory team.
Membership has privileges. If a group does not grant basic membership privileges to someone, the person is really not a member. Privileges include friendliness, everyone listening carefully, an absence of hostile behavior, the acceptance of differences, and phone calls to those who are absent from the group as expressions of concern. There are many other privileges as well. It is because of the members' rights to these privileges that a group should consciously discuss who is, and who is not, to be a member of the group.
And, so, the group leader should ask the people who are considering forming the group who they want to be in the group. This starts by asking individuals to state whether or not they want to be in the group. After all those who want to be group members say so, the group leader must ask them if they all want to include everyone who has said they want to join. This sounds like a formality, but it is the way that they commit to each other. Some may not want certain people in the group, but at this beginning stage of the group’s formation, everyone is usually at their best behavior. Later on, the group might not want someone in the group, but it is this initial commitment for that person to be a member of the group that will help the group work things out.
Make no mistake, the group can decide against the leader's wishes who will be and who will not be a member of the group. No matter how hard you try to keep a person in the group, the group can drive the person out or merely ignore the person during meetings. Just as kids who don’t want someone in their Sunday school class can make sure that the kid avoids the class as often as he can by verbally or physically beating that kid up outside of the class, so can adults expel someone they have decided is not any longer a member of the group. Just being in the room does not make a person a member of the group. Receiving the privileges of membership makes a person a group member.
Groups can, even without knowing it, drive unwanted people away. The members of the group can be rude, inattentive, or indifferent. Less obvious, but equally effective ways in eliminating people who are not true members of the group, are not calling unwanted people between meetings, forgetting to tell them of meeting time or place changes, leaving them out or short-cutting prayers for them during meetings, or asking them to bring more than their fair share of food. There are very many nonverbal ways of indicating a person is not cared for or wanted. And you can bet that most of these things will be done "unconsciously", without thought, since membership was not "thought about" at the start of the group.
Then there are the subtle "Christian" ways to drive people away. Coming down hard on their beliefs about minor issues, teaching or "discipling" them more than others, being "offended" by them often, and a host of other deceptive "Christian-appearing" techniques.
When I start a group, I ask, "Is it okay with all of you that everybody in here is a member of the group?" The people usually look at me like I'm crazy, but there is a purpose to my madness. Even though it is very difficult for anybody to say, "No, we don't like so and so", my question is the first opportunity for mutual commitment within the group. Then I say, "If a person is a member of the group, what rights does he or she have?" This is similar to asking what it costs to accept a person into membership, a very important consideration.
It is important for the group to consider the requirements for membership. Handing group members a list about membership privileges and responsibilities hinders them from seriously considering their task and learning to work together to accomplish their purpose. Don’t do that. Lists become things to discuss later, not things important enough for the present. Lists given out AFTER discussion emphasize what the group itself has already decided is important. That’s okay. But let someone in the newly formed group do it. It is not a task that the leader needs to do. A group will come up with many privileges and responsibilities of membership through open discussion. Plus, the group has been involved in the process. Members are much more likely to follow through.
Unfortunately, we Christians do not usually consider our responsibilities to one another. Belonging to one another is a high calling from God. Membership is cheap and worthless if we are sick and no one calls, if we are sad and the group does not comfort, if we are greatly challenged and the group does not encourage, or if the group is threatened and ignores us when we are content and happy.
For example, when somebody is absent, the group will most likely decide that many group members will call to find out why he or she was not present. That makes members feel missed and wanted. This is far better than the leader calling, because that is expected and won't mean much. (If it does, dangerous dependency has developed.) People want to know the other group members want them there. They know the leader wants them there because he or she is running a “program” and needs the numbers. Only the group members can show that those who are absent are wanted, missed, and cared about.
Consider how a successful group deals with someone who leaves halfway through the group experience, withdrawing an earlier agreement to be a member of the group. Since it was the group that decided that the person was to be a member, only the group can drop a membership. The group will have to decide whether they want to let the person drop out or keep the person as a member and try to bring him or her back to the group meetings. When the group decides that they really love the missing member, that is when the really powerful work of the church begins.
For the sake of illustration, let us imagine a very sticky situation of a member named Joe who left the group because he couldn't have his own way. Joe is opinionated, hot headed and has to get what he wants and does not consider others. If Joe is going to grow to be like Jesus Christ, he will have to give up those negative traits. But how is he going to give them up if he withdraws from people all the time? He will only be rescued from himself with the help of people who show him they love him greatly. These will be the people of the group who still want him as a member and persist in trying to bring him back into their loving fellowship.
Imagine Joe's surprise when he starts getting calls from people who say they really miss him. They might say something like, "We know that you left because you couldn't get your own way, but we love you and we'd like you to get over having to have your own way because we really need you in the group. I mean, the other night I brought up an issue and nobody there knew anything to tell me. But you would have known. You're needed in our group. So won't you please get over your problem of having to get your own way so that you can be there for me. I'll be there for you sometimes too."
You can be certain your local Masonic Lodge or Elks Club makes sure that members get their privileges! A group of Christians should also. This will be facilitated if, at the start, the group specifically discusses who is a member and what are the privileges and responsibilities of membership. The 65 things we identify as “the Togethers of Scripture” are in actuality the birthrights of Christians, the privileges of membership in the Kingdom.
Now, since membership has been decided, for the first time the group leader has a group. Now that the collection of people have identified who wants to be in the group and has decided which of them will be, usually all of them at this point, a group exists. Individuals have made agreements with one another to form a group. To get this to happen, the group leader has been more active than he or she might ever be again. Now there is a group. Now there is an organism that can do work. Now something exists – the group – that can do things better than the group leader. But that possibility is mere potential at this time and the group leader will continue to be active, backing off little by little, as fast as the group's skills develop.
Yet the contract is not yet finished. Those agreements that had to be made by individuals have been made, but the group itself has to understand some more things and make further agreements to assure a successful start.
Next, we will explain the agreements the group must make at the beginning
that will assure better success.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA