Every small group gets off track. Maybe somebody takes a question in a direction it was never meant to go. Maybe each comment in the group spins off a new idea further and further away from the idea behind the initial question. Or maybe somebody introduces a topic completely unrelated to the discussion.
However you get there, tangents and rabbit trails can take your group off track. This can happen at any time: before the warm-up, during the discussion, or even during group prayer time. As a leader, it is your job to manage group tangents. Here are a few tips on how to deal with them:
1) Not all tangents are bad.
Sometimes a quick rabbit trail can be beneficial for a group. A tangent can cover material related to the subject that isn’t going to be discussed in a group guide, but is on the minds of everyone in your group. In this case, take a moment to address the issue, and then get back on track.
Or a group may need a tangent to get everyone talking. Groups can feel dull if no one is participating, and occasionally a quick rabbit trail may engage everyone and get them ready to talk about the main subject.
2) Bring a tangent to a close.
Don’t lose control of your tangents. As the leader, decide how much time you will allow for this tangent. Let it go for 3 minutes or 5 minutes or 8 minutes, but in your mind decide when you will cut it off. You can even tell your group, “Let’s take a couple minutes to discuss this.” But as the leader you need to be the one to bring the group back to the guide. This is an important part of group leadership. Group members get frustrated when tangents go on too long, especially when they don’t care about what is being discussed.
3) Tie the tangent back to the main point.
One of the best ways to get back on track is to tie the tangent back to the main point. This may be relatively easy or exceedingly difficult. Either way, the quickest way to get back to the main point without embarrassing anyone is to see how it relates to the main subject for the night. As the leader, this allows you to move on to the next question or the next point in the discussion. It may seem obvious what you are doing, but the group will understand you are trying to get back to the main point.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- What are some of the dangers of allowing tangents to go on and on in your group?
- What should you do if a couple people want to keep discussing a tangent, but the rest of the group wants to get back on track?
- What are some ways you can address honest questions that people have in a small group discussion without derailing the whole conversation?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.