Over the last 13 years we have enjoyed providing Bible-based, racial/ethnic training programs for thousands of individuals in a wide variety of Christian organizations. During that time we have discovered (the hard way) a few approaches that typically lead to failure and frustration.

1. Be spiritually unprepared

Leading trainings on racial/ethnic diversity often feels like being in a war zone. You can never know what to expect. You feel like you are making great progress and then an emotional grenade goes off in the room that threatens to disrupt the whole dynamic. It is essential for organizations and facilitators to be spiritually prepared through prayer and putting on the armor of God (Eph 6).

2. Do not start with the leadership

Whenever we are approached about facilitating a training, we typically ask, “Can we lead it with your leadership first?” Why? When we don’t start with the leaders, we often hear participants say, “I wish our leadership was here for this.” After the training, the participants’ efforts to apply what they’ve learned are often intentionally or unintentionally opposed by leaders who don’t understand the purpose of their efforts.

3. Make it voluntary

Making trainings voluntary (i.e. show up if/when you want) is a sure fire way to preach to the choir. The training program will be attended by individuals who could probably teach the training themselves. Meanwhile, the people who need it the most will spend their time elsewhere. We realize making trainings mandatory has its own set of challenges, but we believe it is worth navigating them. We have found one of the most effective approaches to be, “We believe this is essential for us to accomplish our mission as an organization. Therefore, we are requiring everyone to participate.” Sidenote: If the leadership goes through the training first (#2 above), it makes it much easier to ask everyone to follow their example.

4. Go too fast

We have found that pace and timing are two of the most important elements to get right when leading a training. If you try to quickly push into difficult topics, people will shut down and emotionally or even physically leave the conversation. It is essential to build rapport, trust, and relational connections before trying to move into more challenging topics.

5. Do not provide adequate time

When we first started providing trainings we typically only had an hour or two. We quickly learned that was inadequate. With short time frames we often heard, “I wish we had more time!” And/or, we felt like we were just “poking the bear”. The participants heard enough to get agitated but didn’t have adequate time to discuss their concerns and questions and turn it into something productive. Now, with our custom trainings, we typically recommend a two day time frame. We find that it usually takes about four hours with a group before there is enough trust and connection established to move into more potentially divisive (but essential) subjects.

We have learned to be very intentional about avoiding the “deadly five” above with our training programs. We hope you can learn from our pain and avoid making these mistakes.