Small groups are one of the best ways to participate in church. Instead of popping in and out on Sunday mornings incognito, you can put names and stories to faces in the crowd. And attending church services is so much more enjoyable when those people become friends you can sit with, grab lunch with, and discuss the sermon with.
All of these things come when your group feels like a community, but have you ever been part of a bad group? Or if bad feels too strong, maybe your group was just a dud? Our time is precious, so we want the things we commit to each week to count. The less connected you feel to a group, the less committed you will be. And if you are feeling disconnected, chances are others in the group are too.
When group members are close, attendance doesn’t wane, conversation flows naturally, and you have a new set of friends you can truly count on. But how do you get there? Of course you can’t take a room of strangers and expect instant community. The authentic community we crave must be cultivated. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Eat Meals Together. Start your group with nothing on the agenda but a meal. Jesus used food over and over again to teach and to develop relationships. In Scripture, we often see Him going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. He even cooks! The table is a place of connection for believers today too. The meal does not have to be complicated at all—order pizza, make it a potluck, or cook a frozen lasagna and serve it with bagged salad. During the meal, ask an icebreaker question, talk about your favorite podcasts, or see what TV shows people are watching. Talk about normal life. Your group meeting doesn’t always have to be a deep theological discussion to be meaningful. In fact, those deeper conversations tend to come later—and easier—when you have built a foundation. If at all possible, always share a meal when you meet.
- Tell Your Stories. If you are a new group banding together, ask everyone tell their stories. Select two people per week, and encourage each person to share details of her/his life and faith journey. Encourage vulnerability by leaving in the hard stuff—don’t gloss over the difficulties you’ve been through that have shaped who you are. You will laugh and cry together, and this is where authenticity can truly blossom.
- Share Prayer Requests. Praying for each other is an honor and helps you know how to be there for each other in big and small ways. You could have everyone go around and share one request each week; start a group text where you can pass along ongoing needs; provide index cards for everyone to write on, then do a blind swap at the end. There are many ways to share requests each week, and the method you choose is less important than the act of bearing one another’s burdens.
- Serve Together. Gathering together around a common mission builds strong relational bonds. Name a point person who will be in charge of organizing what your missional project will be (this person should not be the host—spread out the responsibility), and make it a goal to serve together once a month. Maybe you will connect with a local ministry, adopt a refugee family, mentor some kids, or teach ESL. No matter what, you will love serving together and the effects that service will have on your group.
- Have Fun. Have a good time with these people! Without true camaraderie, your group is less likely to stay intact. Enjoying each other’s company and building genuine friendships is just as important as praying and discussing things of God. Appoint a social chair (also not the host or the service organizer) to plan fun outings like attending a baseball game, booking a night at an escape game, or going on a hike.
Is your group a community? How did you achieve it? What other advice would you give? Tell us in the comments below!
Larissa Arnault Roach is the marketing strategist for Lifeway Women. She loves to eat meals with friends from her small group—a wonderful mixture of men and women in different life stages who are honest, funny, and seeking God.