How to approach conflict in your small group

Oct 18, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Kelly Bakalich


Divisiveness. It feels like the reality for our world today; with people taking sides on just about everything, including whether a dress is black and blue or white and gold.

While that’s a trivial topic, there are bigger issues that can challenge communities, creating fractures in deep relationships and making it hard – if not impossible – to talk about the complicated topics at hand.

What causes this division? Why is there so much conflict in our communities? What can we in church ministry do to help? 

Digging into the root of conflict can give us a first step to building a foundation to turning difficult conversations into community.

There are two faces of conflict

The word conflict can stir up negative thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, and memories of past Thanksgiving dinner conversations. However, conflict doesn’t have to cause these reactions because there are two different ways we can approach conflict: constructively and destructively.

People with the “I want to do what it takes to win and prove that I’m right and can’t be pushed around” mindset create destructive conflict. It’s easy to fall into this way of thinking because we don’t want to be wrong or feel unintelligent.

On the other hand, people who have thoughts like “I look at conflict opportunities as a potential force for change” are most likely going to have constructive conflict.

The key to having constructive conflict is humility – having a heart that wants to hear the other person’s ideas and create harmonious solutions.


How does conflict arise?

People want to approach conversation with a loving heart and come to resolution, but sometimes it’s not that simple.

We can feel like we’re on a completely different island and there’s no way to meet in the middle. 

Topical issues aside, there’s usually a deeper reason why there hasn’t been successful discussion in the past.

Looking at five different layers of conflict can explain why disagreements can jump to deconstructive conflict: misunderstandings, differences in values and beliefs, differences in interest, interpersonal differences, and feelings and emotions.

It’s important to consider these layers before entering difficult conversations so your small group can come to closure in a healthy way.


Create resolution the healthy way

Facing conflict is difficult when we blindly go into it, but when we prepare we can go a long way. The American Psychological Association (APA) lists seven strategies to face conflict:

  1. Think it over. It’s easy to assume someone’s thoughts even though we never asked them what they were thinking and trying to communicate. Before initiating conversation, take time to think it over. Start with prayer, asking God to open your eyes to what you cannot see.
  2. Consult others. Talk to your mentors, pastors, or friends and ask them what they might do in your situation.
  3. Practice what to say. If you’ve ever taken a public speaking course, you know that practicing makes presenting easier. Look in the mirror and watch your facial expressions when you say the tough stuff. Body language can speak louder than words.
  4. Document your concerns. As a small group leader, you’ve practiced all week, Now it’s time to talk. But all of a sudden, your mind goes completely blank. Reduce the risk of this happening by writing down what you have prepared to say. This shows the adults in your small group that you put a lot of thought into this discussion.
  5. Use grace. Often easier said than done, right? Pray for grace to help each person feel loved even in disagreement.
  6. Follow up. Adults in your small group may need more time than you to process their thoughts. Set a reminder to follow up with them and ask how they feel about your conversation.
  7. Don’t put it off. You may have hesitations now but in the end others in your group will most likely appreciate you wanting to clear the air.


Interested in learning more about conflict resolution? Check out our free infographic about conflict to help you understand the root of difficult conversations and how you can work with your small group to turn conflict into community.  

Topics: Adults Ministry

Kelly Bakalich

Written by Kelly Bakalich

As a marketing specialist at Sparkhouse, Kelly serves ministry leaders by sharing Sparkhouse's news through events, webinars, and emails. Outside of work, she volunteers as a youth small group leader at her local church and is inspired by her students’ desire to learn each day. Kelly also enjoys learning about health and fitness, hiking, camping, and playing volleyball…especially volleyball!


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