On 28Nineteen, I wrote a blog post entitled The Impact of Proxemics on Disciple-making. There I shared about intimate, personal, social, and public distance between people and group size that can occupy that space:
- Public: 35+ (10+ feet)
- Social: 8-35 (4-10 feet)
- Personal: 3-7 people (18-48 inches)
- Intimate: 2 people (0-18 inches)
This information has impact not only upon social interaction but also upon teaching-learning (discipling). There are researchers who have reported findings from a variety of social experiments and research projects related to teaching. I will not be reporting on their (or my own) findings. Instead, I simply want to share some of my anecdotal observations.
Keep in mind that Jesus interacted with people in all of these distances and group sizes. But if you study Jesus’ interactions, His conversations and questions changed considerably as the number of persons involved changed. We too must be sensitive in our teaching-learning encounters to adjust to our group size. (A side note: I challenge you to go through the Gospels with a four colors of highlighters marking each of the social spaces in Jesus’ interactions. Then go back to look at how Jesus taught/communicated in each group size.)
Teachers must be prepared to adjust methods when the group size moves higher than or lower than the normal, expected range of class attendance. Allow me to illustrate what I mean.
In small classes (personal size), everyone tends to participate. Because of class size, the teacher expects that participation and plans for it in his/her teaching plan. But when a couple extra people show up on Sunday, the normal conversation often shuts down. There is a mental/psychological switch that turns on when the group exceeds 6-7 people. At that point, the class expects the teacher to do more of the talking because there is not enough time for everyone to participate as much as usual.
Sometimes the session fails to be effective because we use methods designed more for a larger or smaller size group. This can happen because the class has lost some regular attenders due to a move. Or it can happen because the class has received two recent new member couples. So it can be a long-term change to which we need to respond and change.
Some attendance changes happen only on rare or random Sundays. In those cases, the normal tendencies of the class may carry over. In other words, if the class if normally personal size but has extra guests one Sunday, the regulars may still act like the class is personal. But the guests will feel even more awkward about participation because they react to the size for that day (social) and expect the teacher to do most of the talking.
Some teachers never adjust to the class size change, and it usually impacts the growth of the class negatively. In other words, a teacher begins teaching a class in the social size and over time loses some members (due to good reasons). But he/she still teaches the smaller group the same way he/she did when the class was larger. This in turn leads the class (which wants to talk) not to feel like the teacher listens. As a result, even more people drop out.
Be sensitive to your attenders. Be sensitive to group size dynamics. Be sensitive to group size changes. Teach to make disciples by adjusting your methods when needed. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!