Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 8
What to Do About Absenteeism from the Group
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
Poor attendance can be the result of a few factors. Please analyze carefully.
These mistakes are common. Don’t feel bad about them. Just solve the right problem and you should be back on track.
Poor attendance can be related to:
(1) Inadequate group purpose -- the absent members don’t feel they need what the group offers.
(2) Absentee group members don’t feel wanted or desired in the group for a multitude of possible reasons.
(3) Some problem in the group itself makes the group scary or quite uncomfortable.
(4) A personal problem of the absentee member is taking priority over group attendance.
(1) INADEQUATE GROUP PURPOSE -- THE ABSENT MEMBERS DON’T FEEL THEY NEED WHAT THE GROUP OFFERS.
Absenteeism can be related to both of these reasons related to group purpose. Many groups fail because the group has not adopted a purpose. Other groups fail because the purpose it has adopted is not important enough to be a long-term priority to some group members.
Skillful group leadership makes sure that the group adopts a critical purpose right at the start of the group experience. Group members are asked whether the group purpose under discussion is important enough for them to commit to being a part of the group. Then the costs of group membership with that purpose are discussed, including consistent attendance.
It is easy to see why a group with no purpose might not compete with a lot of other things asking for a person’s time. No purpose at all is a mistake easily remedied.
If this has not been done at the start of the group experience, the group leader can “back up” and do it now to get things on a firmer foundation. For the sake of success, the group can take time out from its regular agenda to discuss what the group is all about and whether that is good enough to stimulate regular attendance. If not, it is better to change the purpose and whole direction of the group than for the group to die.
Often the group leader states a group purpose but does not ask the group members to commit to it, hoping that the purpose is popular enough to keep people coming. When the group leader simply states a group purpose, the group is actually still without a purpose because the group itself has not adopted it. The group leader has adopted a purpose for the group, and this holds no power over group members. It is the group leader’s purpose, not theirs. In their minds, they don’t really have to commit to it.
It should be clarified that the group purpose should be an outcome, a benefit worth spending time and energy on. Activity is seldom an adequate purpose unless it is recreational, like playing volleyball. Bible study, for example, is usually an inadequate purpose. It is an activity rather than an outcome and will only hold those group members who see the activity as utterly holy or Christian recreation. Far more adequate as a purpose is to study the Bible to see that each group member has answers for the most serious parts of their lives, or to study the Psalms in order to learn how to truly praise God.
Another problem with group purposes that are activities rather than activities connected to results is that there is little way the group can measure its effectiveness. How does it measure if it is getting anywhere if there is no destination other than the activity? People want to know that they are getting something out of their expenditures, whether that be money or time. There will always be a few dedicated followers who will be at the group meeting no matter what. Their need may be to make the leader feel good, to be accepted and loved by the leader, to not be lonely, or to actually get something out of the group itself. But the more discerning might not buy into activity for activity’s sake. They may want to know that they are using their time wisely. They need a purpose that can be measured.
Another reason for lax attendance leading to drop-out is if the purpose just doesn’t “scratch where people really itch”. At first people might think that the group and its purpose will “fit the bill”. But down the stretch a bit they realize that they have little motivation to attend the group. The group purpose, while it looked good at the start, just doesn’t address one of their major needs. So their attendance grows sporadic and eventually dies.
A group with an inadequate purpose can actually cause problems for a marriage. The purpose can be adequate for one person, but not the spouse. This is troublesome because many husbands and wives cannot peacefully discuss the situation. Eventually the group becomes a source of major conflict. The marriage not being expendable, the group needs to become history.
A group leader wanting to start a group, or continue a group that is having trouble with attendance, really has to search his or her soul to see if the group purpose he or she is offering is more for his or her own need. If so, the group is bound to face defeat unless that purpose is high priority in the group member’s minds. But this group leader can usually think of a way to make the group purpose more significant for group members. It might take a lot of thinking and a lot of talking with group members or potential group members, but a significant and critical purpose can usually be found.
A detriment to a strong, attractive and crucial group purpose can be prepared material. Focused material, overcoming co-dependency, for example, can work if those joining the group are those who want to acquire this kind of personal growth. Usually these kinds of groups are time-limited. Dissatisfied people can stick in these groups for the required three months because the end is in sight. But if the co-dependency group decides to continue, the spouse who was only “along for the ride” will start to miss meetings. The purpose was worth three months for the sake of her husband, but maybe not six.
But some prepared material may not be so motivating. Often what Christians really need is not what they want. Probably all of us could benefit from a good Bible study on holiness. A good book on the subject could help. But to pull together a group of people to study holiness might not succeed without a heart-searching and motivating discussion at the start to help potential group members want holiness enough to stay in the group until every member has made significant progress in holiness. Otherwise, people will gladly join the group (who can vote against holiness?) and drop out when any good excuse comes up.
(2) ABSENTEE GROUP MEMBERS DON’T FEEL WANTED OR DESIRED IN THE GROUP FOR A MULTITUDE OF POSSIBLE REASONS.
There is always the possibility that absentee group members do not feel welcome or liked.
There are many reasons a person might not feel liked. (1) They may have been unpopular as a child and just see themselves as not likeable or victimized. (2) They may have been liked, but because they are extremely sensitive individuals feel insecure and not liked. (3) They may have been rejected in overt or subtle ways by one or both parents as children and need strong, overt approval and affection. (4) And, last but not unheard of, they may actually be unliked by the group.
The typical way taught to help people feel welcome is for the group leader to call absentee group members to make contact after an absence from group. (Sunday school teachers are often taught to do this.) However, the question of acceptance is rarely focused on the group leader. There seems to be a general assumption that the leader wants members there, at least to have the attendance that will make the leader feel good. No, the concern is usually whether the group and its members, not the leader, wants the reluctant member there at the meetings.
That is why the superior way to address this is to have the group members themselves make contact with missing group members. It is the group’s job, using its members wisely, to make people feel welcome and wanted in the group. (Think which has more power in a 4th grade Sunday school class, the teacher calling or one of the 4th graders calling to say the child was missed on Sunday morning. And the same is true for an adult class.)
This solution will be adequate for most of the individuals who would be sporadic in attendance for the first three reasons listed above. Certainly, it is not a solution if the person is truly not liked by the group. But for the first three reasons, some individuals will need more overt help from the group, and the group might want to discuss this with or without the person present. Does the person seem to need more overt signs of acceptance and love, like hugs? A largely introverted group might have to tell its members to extend themselves emotionally. A group might have to tell its members to not forget the hugs and compliments.
But what does a group do if the person who is absent is not really liked by the group? Well, weak groups don’t do anything because they are at least unconsciously glad the person is not there. But strong groups will see that the group has a problem, the solving of which could strengthen each group member and the group itself.
A strong group, or a group with a skillful leader, would face this problem of not liking a group member head-on. If not worked on before the person becomes absent, as is the implication here, the group will discuss their dislike of the person who is absent and admit that they should do something to help the person become more likeable. In the person’s absence, the group would examine itself and the hearts of the various group members and do whatever necessary to correct their own problem, whether that be disgust, judging, lack of compassion or some other sin. After that was taken care of, the group would go on to effect a plan to help the absent group member become likable, maybe for the first time in his or her life.
Can you imagine how good a group would feel about itself if it addressed such a problem head-on and helped someone turn their whole life around? Can you imagine how good everyone would feel when that person tearfully reported true happiness at finally being liked at work? That group would begin to experience what the Christian life can be all about.
And, of course, the person would not have to be absent for the group to deal with such a problem. As soon as it was evident that the group and its members were having trouble liking and accepting an individual, and it would be evident from body language signals, the skillful group leader would ask the group to deal with it. The person has been disliked all his or her life, most likely, and for the group to deal with it face-to-face would be far less cruel than the way it had been handled by others at school and work for years and years. And a conscientious group under the guidance of a skillful leader and helped by the Holy Spirit would deal with it gently. The Lord’s grace would be present in the behavior of the group members.
When the group members gently confront with tears and gentle explanations, and when they pray compassionately and desperately for that individual, he or she will feel loved quite deeply.
(3) SOME PROBLEM IN THE GROUP ITSELF MAKES COMING SCARY OR QUITE UNCOMFORTABLE.
Occasionally a group becomes dysfunctional and scares people away. A growing conflict between members or between members and the group leader will cause group meetings to be uncomfortable and may keep people from coming. In this case, the group must deal with whatever is occurring that is uncomfortable or dysfunctional. The skillful group leader usually sees these things coming and urges the group to deal with them before they get so very uncomfortable. But if such a problem escapes the attention of the group leader, he or she merely has the group deal with it presently. Of course, it will be harder to deal with when it has become scary and uncomfortable, but that is when the most spiritual growth will occur.
(4) A PERSONAL PROBLEM OF THE ABSENTEE MEMBER IS TAKING PRIORITY OVER GROUP ATTENDANCE.
Most will recognize that this is a legitimate reason to miss group meetings. But it is often not a good reason to drop out. Such personal problems usually require personal support and prayer, and it is better if the absentee member will accept the group’s help. Again, it is usually the group leader that makes contact to see if such a problem exists. But it still is best if the group members do it instead. The absentee member will want to know that his or her problem is not an unwanted burden to the group. It will be expected that the group leader might want to be of help, identified as he or she is with Christian leadership. But to bother the group with the problem, to seek their prayers and their counsel requires that group members extend themselves to that person outside of group.
Next, learn what to do about dangerous abandonment in the group.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA