This post is the ninth post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage.
I still remember learning about the magic of compounding interest. A little bit of money, pocketed away, earning interest, becomes a great deal of money given enough time. Drip. Drip. Drip ... no ... not quite. A snowball ... better. A dollar saved today is worth two dollars in 14.2 years.
Deposits you make today will pay dividends tomorrow.
The same is true in our Groups. Investing relationally into the lives of the people in your Group at the beginning of your Group is one of the secret ingredients to having a great Group.
Investing relationally means taking the time to really, deeply get to know the people in your Group. Ideally, it also means to help the people in your Group know you deeply.
But here's the problem ... growth in relationships takes a long time in the Group. Everyone shares, so it's hard to share at length. The Leader models a level of engagement that's comfortable for people who don't know each other well, so we get to know each other slowly ... surely ... but slowly.
It's a tension. The quicker you get to know the people in your Group, the better your Group will be, but sharing in the Group can't go too deep too quick without creating unhealthy dynamics in the Group.
What do you do?
A Group Leader has to invest in the lives of the people in the Group ... and this has to happen apart from the regular times the Group gathers.
At this point, we roll our eyes, sigh, groan ... where will I find the time for more meetings?
Leading a Group well is hard work. It takes time and energy and consumes a lot of you.
But it's worth it.
Here are some tips to help you make that extra, early investment in the lives of the people in your Group and keep your sanity / family / job / GPA (at least, part of it) ...
Do what you're going to do anyways
Everybody's gotta eat. Find a way to leverage lunch or dinner in those first few weeks to connect with people in your Group. This is the quickest and easiest way for me to invest relationally in people.
But it's not the only way. Bill Robinson, my friend and the guy who trained me to work with InterVarsity, had a million ways to do this. He took people with him to run errands (oil change, grocery store, etc ...). He went to Tech games with people. He played cards, grabbed coffee, went walking and jogging and running, dates with his wife, attended church and sat somewhere with purpose, served the community, played golf, watched movies ... all with people. He was going to do all of that stuff anyways, he just did it ... intentionally ... with people.
Be strategic about who you invest in
If your Group is too big for you to be able to get face-time with everyone at once, think strategically about who you invest in in those first weeks.
Who are the people you can invest in who will invest in others?
Who are the people who would really benefit from you investing in them?
Who are the people who will be the most fun to invest in?
The answers to those questions may not all be the same ... that's okay. There's not one strategy that's the best for investment. But there's probably a strategy that's the best for you and for your Group. Take time to think about it.
So often, we Leaders just respond to emergencies and spend time with the people who initiate with us. And we have to respond. But that doesn't mean we can't initiate. (Hint: use the 3 questions above to draw a Venn diagram ... yes, I read Indexed).
Know and play to your limits
I hate to see Leaders burn out. And this is an arena where it's easy to burn out. You invest and invest and invest and don't have enough left over at the end of the month to pay the metaphorical water bill.
As an introvert, I find leading Groups exhausting. When I led the 20somethings Group in Virginia, after the Group I spent the rest of the night wired and frazzled, like a robot with an electrical short. I slept deeply that night and needed some space to not talk to anyone that next morning. But it was so much fun!
Being an introvert didn't mean I couldn't invest relationally in my Group. It just meant I needed to invest in an introvert-y way. During our meetings, I would spend all of my energy, catching up and listening and talking with the crowd. But I'd also pull people aside for one-on-one conversation (in the kitchen, around the dining room table). And when the night was through, I'd use my introvert tricks to recover. And during the week, I'd pursue relational investment in quiet places ... over dinner at our house, over a game of cards, on a walk. And it worked.
Extroverts have their own struggles, I assume. I feel like the nerdy guys saying that he's sure the quarterback prom-king has some life-difficulties too ... I'm just not sure what they are (Any extroverts want to pitch in here?).
Lastly, think "Sprint" not "Marathon"
If the best value for investment is early, don't try to set a sustainable pace. Sustainable paces kill Groups. They sound like a strategy to avoid burnout, but they actually contribute to it.
Think about it, how exhausting is it to lead people you don't know? You misinterpret their cues, stumble across landmines in their personal stories, confuse them ... it's hard. But a big down payment helps. As you get to know the people in your Group, you start to like them, start to care about them and leading becomes a joy. There's little joy in leading people you don't know. Just burnout.
Try saying to yourself "I'm going to pack my schedule for the next two weeks, then dial back to a more reasonable pace." Knowing when to sprint and when to jog makes a huge difference.
You don't have to sustain the pace forever. But, at the beginning of your Group, go all out!
Who has invested in you? How did they do it?