The Power of "Group Think"

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .


guest post by Larry Dinkins


I recently went through training which included 10 days of silently reading portions of the book of Acts for 30 minutes and then discussing them in a group for another 30 minutes.  I enjoyed the group discussion time, but was struck how western and individualistic it was to sit by myself and read silently without interacting with the others around my table.  Of course, processing the Bible silently and in isolation wasn't hard for me (after all, I got through college sitting by myself in a study carrel in the university library). But what about the Thai; would they have warmed to such an assignment?


During my years at the Bangkok Bible College, I noticed that students didn't seem to sit in the nice study carrels we had built for them, but gravitated to large tables where they would chat, study and munch snacks with their friends.  Thailand is a collective/group oriented society and those that minister here (or in most of Asia) should understand such "group think".  A book I read recently highlighted for me the importance of such group thinking, especially as it relates to teaching the bible.


The book is Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale.  I immediately bought it when a friend told me he had read it cover to cover in one sitting. Trousdale's analysis of group dynamics in one insightful chapter fit right in with what I experienced telling Bible stories in Thailand and was the inspiration behind this blog. Trousdale wrote:


"Disciple Making Movements depend on group processes for the following reasons ... Groups remember more than individuals. Collective memory is always dramatically better than individual memory. Groups learn faster than individuals. Groups require less repetition, and group repetition becomes individual memory. Groups replicate faster than individuals. Because of the speed of memorization and learning, individuals in a group reach a point where they can pass on to others quickly what they are learning. Groups replicate more often than individuals. Speed of replication affects frequency of replication." 


Larry's Comment:  In our Bible story training we learn and repeat the story together as a group. Yet it doesn't stay in the group. There is a natural desire to replicate the story and pass it on to others, which seems to be glaringly absent from most propositional presentations that may be addressed to a group of people, but in the absence of discussion end up being processed individually. Added to this is the fact that there is seldom any emphasis on actually sharing the message with others.


"Groups are a protection against bad leadership and heresy. When the authority of Scripture and dependence on prayer and the Holy Spirit are part of a group’s DNA, groups can protect themselves against bad leadership. Measuring leaders by God’s Word is a powerful defense against extra-biblical and unbiblical practices. Groups self-correct. We see this happen frequently when groups measure themselves by the requirements of Scripture. Groups keep individuals accountable. If a group member disobeys Scripture, the group will know and respond quickly."


Larry's Comment:  One of the objections leveled against orality is the perceived danger of heresy. Trousdale says just the opposite is true as groups promote accountability in the area of both leadership and biblical integrity.


"Making disciples is discovery process based: Jesus spent time with the Twelve and gave them the opportunity to discover who He is. He revealed Himself progressively to them, until they came to the point where they knew that He is the Christ, the Son of God."


Larry's Comment:  If a story is unpacked properly there will be an opportunity for the learner to discover truth about God first hand, rather than relying on an "expert" to spoon-feed information to a passive listener. The cumulative affect as more and more stories are added chronologically is a more solid understanding of the person of God and his will.



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