While the official end of summer is still awhile away, August marks the end of summer break and the beginning of fall activities for many of us. This likely includes the re-launch of your small group ministry. The group you lead may be exactly the same as last year; you may be gaining or losing a few members; or you may be an entirely new group altogether. Regardless, the beginning of a new small group season is the perfect time to start learning about your group members and the role they play in your group.
As the leader, it is important that you understand the personality dynamics at play in your group, because doing so allows you to draw out an individual’s strengths and avoid potential conflicts or hurdles to discussion. In the 1940s, two theorists on group behavior, Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats, wrote an article titled “Functional Roles of Group Members.” They identified 26 different roles people play in a group or team setting. Two of the categories they focused on are personal and/or social roles—roles that contribute to the positive functioning of the group—and dysfunctional and/or individualistic roles—roles that disrupt group progress and weaken its cohesion.
The following list is excerpted from “Benne and Sheats’ Group Roles: Identifying Both Positive and Negative Group Behavior Roles,” available from mindtools.com. Think about your current (or most recent) small group as you read through the sampling of roles on these two lists:
Personal and/or Social Roles
- Encourager—Affirms, supports, and praises the efforts of fellow group members. Demonstrates warmth and provides a positive attitude in meetings.
- Harmonizer—Conciliates differences between individuals. Seeks ways to reduce tension and diffuse a situation by providing further explanations or using humor.
- Compromiser—Offers to change his or her position for the good of the group. Willing to yield position or meet others half way.
- Gatekeeper/Expediter—Regulates the flow of communication. Makes sure all members have a chance to express themselves by encouraging the shy and quiet members to contribute their ideas. Limits those who dominate the conversation and may suggest group rules or standards that ensure everyone gets a chance to speak up.
- Follower—Accepts what others say and decide even though he or she has not contributed to the decision or expressed own thoughts. Seen as a listener not a contributor.
Dysfunctional and/or Individualistic Roles
- Aggressor—Makes personal attacks using belittling and insulting comments, for example, “That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.” Actions are usually an attempt to decrease another member’s status.
- Blocker—Opposes every idea or opinion that is put forward and yet refuses to make own suggestions, for example, “That’s not a good idea.” The result is that the group stalls because it can’t get past the resistance.
- Recognition Seeker—Uses group meetings to draw personal attention to him or herself. May brag about past accomplishments or relay irrelevant stories that paint him or her in a positive light.
- Dominator—Tries to control the conversation and dictate what people should be doing. Often exaggerates his or her knowledge and will monopolize any conversation claiming to know more about the situation and have better solutions than anybody else.
As you can see from these roles and their descriptions, every group member brings a unique personality to your group setting, and that personality can have a big impact on the level of depth and vulnerability you reach this group year. Drawing out the positive traits and working to minimize or work around the individualistic ones will help strengthen the unity and connection of your group members so that nothing distracts you from studying God’s Word and discipling one another.
For the complete list of roles, see “Benne and Sheats’ Group Roles: Identifying Both Positive and Negative Group Behavior Roles,” available at www.mindtools.com. Benne and Sheats’s original article was published in 1948 as “Functional Roles of Group Members” in the Journal of Social Issues, and a PDF of the article is available from Wiley Online Library.
Laura Magness is a content specialist for LifeWay’s Discipleship in Context and smallgroup.com. A graduate of Samford University and Dallas Theological Seminary, she now lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband and their 1-year-old son.