At some point, when leading your group, it is likely that a group member will want to tell a story in response to the session’s discussion. In this case, it is important that you get 100 percent of any story a group member decides to tell, or at least as high a percentage as possible. Because hearing 90 percent of someone’s story and hearing 100 percent of the story are not the same thing.
When hearing 90 percent of the story, you’ll hear:
- What is comfortable to the storyteller
- What is funny or factual
What you won’t hear are:
- The parts of the story that might make someone angry or disappointed
- The parts of the story that might open the door for the group to create expectations of the storyteller
Instead, try asking for the full story. When hearing the full story, you’ll hear:
- The parts of the story that are uncomfortable for the storyteller
- The parts of the story that birthed the storyteller’s inner tension, anger, disappointment, or scars
- The parts of the story that might cause an emotional response for other group members
- The parts of the story that will generate expectations for the storyteller. These expectations may require the storyteller to deal with a broken relationship, overcome their judgmental attitude, or wrestle with their perspective on the issue that created the tension. In other words, you and the group will be able to guide the group member down a path that leads to healing.
When you sense that a group member is only telling you part of the story, ask questions like these:
- I’m not sure I understand what happened. Would you fill in the gaps in the story? We’ve got plenty of time.
- Did someone else ever talk about what happened? What did they say to you that maybe you overlooked?
- If the group member is describing a conflict between them and someone else, ask how the other person might describe what happened.
- Thank the group member for sharing his or her story with the group. Say: most of the time when someone tells a story, they tell about 90 percent. You could give us a great gift if you told us the last 10 percent.
It is important that small group leaders realize the difference between hearing 90 percent of a group member’s experience and hearing the full 100 percent. Only when someone tells 100 percent of his or her story can the leader guide the group to help the storyteller gain the right perspective on the experience, take responsibility for their part of the conflict, and work in tandem with God to heal a scarred heart.
Rick Howerton is the Small Groups and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. He has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought-after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual as well as A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. He is also the co-author of Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making and Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. But Rick’s deepest passion and his goal in life is to see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.”