Most of the time small groups can offer good support to their members. Small groups are very good at supporting individuals through the different seasons of life, not only with prayer but often practical help as well. Where the groups have the sort of atmospheres that we describe in terms of honesty and participation then things are more likely to come to light, and we need to be prepared to work with what comes up.
It is said that our overall health is enhanced by being part of a good small group; to have a place where we are valued and given the opportunity to grow and develop is good for us. This not only helps us develop spiritually but in all areas of our lives as we are given a voice and are cared for as part of our small group community. This is often enhanced by the relationships that develop outside the group as members meet up one to one over coffee.
However, we need to recognise that in some situations people need more support than the group can offer. This is particularly true where a situation is ongoing and sometimes true where a crisis has emerged that needs shorter term input of a more professional nature. Where this is the case a pathway needs to be in place so the small group leader can talk to a member of the central leadership team about their concerns and referral can be offered to an appropriate agency. In less demanding situations, some support from a member of the church outside of the small group can be offered. In either situation it is helpful that action is taken as soon as a situation is recognised, both for the sake of the individual and to ensure that the group does not become overburdened trying to offer ongoing support.
It is good to have a connection to someone who oversees the group and offers some oversight and support to the group leader in these situations. For more on this area see the coaching section on this link here.
Each Church will differ in response to these situations and have particular systems in place to enable discipleship and pastoral care, the key here is to be clear about how this works and who needs to be involved. In most situations the earlier something is highlighted the better. For more thinking around this area see our new booklet Developing Leaders – training for small group leaders.