Most of us have been in a group or two with one group member who dominates the group experience. Maybe there’s been someone who tried to dominate every group you’ve been in. It’s important for the health of our groups and for our growth as leaders that we learn how to set boundaries for dominant group members.

If one member of the group dominates the group experience, the real issues of growth and care for other members may never be addressed. Individuals who don’t grow and aren’t cared for will carry that experience into their future groups. They may even decide that community isn’t worth the effort. And if leaders don’t set boundaries, dominant group members will carry that pattern of behavior into their future groups as well.

We can’t “kick the can down the road” or “run out the clock.” The opportunity to create and sustain a healthy group is now. But first we have to set boundaries.

This is never easy. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. In the long run, it’s easier to set boundaries at the outset of the group than to have to rein someone in six months into the life of the group. How do you do this?

First, clearly establish from the beginning that small group is not a support group. While care is part of the experience, the small group isn’t equipped or designed to be a recovery group or a place for counseling sessions.

Second, address the distinction between caregiving and caretaking. God calls us to provide care in times of need, but we’re not caretakers for individuals in our groups.

Third, establish at the outset that spiritual growth is a goal for the group. That means group members are willing to listen and apply insights and actions suggested by the group.

Finally, group is a place for accountability. Community allows God to restore and reconcile us to him throughour relationships with others. Isaiah 61 says, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners.” What greater charge can leaders have? When we proclaim biblical truths, those truths become the key to breaking through the barriers that hold a needy person hostage. Those truths shine a light where darkness has thrived for years. As leaders, we have the opportunity, challenge, privilege, and responsibility to deliver truth.

Setting boundaries is essential in helping lead groups well. But there are times when group members refuse to live within the established group boundaries. Part Two of this post explores what to do in that kind of situation.