Just below the surface of most groups sits a plethora of differences. If you don’t believe me, ask these questions and see what happens:
- If you were on a sports team that was invited to the White House, would you go?
- What makes our city better than any other city?
- Why do you think (name a college) is so much better than (name of different college)?
Most of our groups are diverse; we just don’t always recognize it. Not everyone in the group agrees on every issue. There may be people with different races, political views, hometowns, genders, occupations, levels of income…you get the picture. That diversity impacts our group in both negative and positive ways.
Let’s look at the potential negative impacts, or distractions, of diversity.
Can limit some discussion. I lead a co-ed class of married couples. If a husband states his opinion, his wife will rarely disagree with him unless I force the issue. She will wait for the car ride home to finish the discussion, without the group gaining insights that might have needed to be heard. The relationship outweighs the diversity. Some people will not take the risk of stating their beliefs if they know someone may disagree. Diversity multiplies the possibility of disagreement.
Can give the rabbit chaser a weapon. Almost every group or class has a rabbit chaser. He or she likes taking control of the discussion by focusing on some minor point (the rabbit) that ultimately has no bearing on the study. During a study of Jesus’ birth, a rabbit chaser focused on how much time was required to walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem with and without a donkey. He fed off the diversity of the group, calling on the runners and a couple who raised horses to help him with his calculations. He pitted the two against each other, using the diversity as a weapon to avoid talking about the deeper truths in the Bible passage.
Focus becomes the differences more so than the points of agreement. So many times we find ourselves looking for the differences to the exclusion of finding some common ground. We would rather focus on our disagreement over the details of the return of Christ than affirm that we both believe that He is coming back and that all believers will spend eternity with Him in heaven.
Now for some positive impacts of diversity.
Learning from the experience of others. A diverse group moves us away from group think, allowing for different perspectives to be explored. Group think discourages critical thinking. The diversity gives each individual a point of comparison of his or her unique experience and understanding of those experiences. In effect, the group becomes a living case study for each individual involved.
Way to discern universal truths. As people with diverse backgrounds explore truth together, they will discover universal truths. They will discover some ideas and truths cut through all of life circumstances. They may have seen God’s love and grace demonstrated in different ways, but that is the point….God’s love and grace is always demonstrated regardless of a person’s race, gender, or hometown.
Makes it easier for the group to connect with new people. Diversity broadens the connection points for others. When a new person attends a group, they are looking for someone with whom they can connect. The more diverse the group, the more likely there will be someone with whom a new person can connect.
What would you add to these lists? How can you minimize the negatives and build on the positives?
G. Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at Lifeway, including the adult Explore the Bible resources. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.