Community is something we were all made for but something that you can’t force upon people. Christian community and small groups are no exception. It can be tricky pulling together the right group of people who will walk together through life situations and circumstances, faithfully building one another up as Christ-followers, and striving for accountability that is not too uncomfortable or awkward.
Small groups are designed to disciple believers, strengthen spiritual growth, and mature members in their faith. This type of living in community—life on life—is not a program. It is people who stay focused and committed to Jesus. For that to happen, there needs to be accountability because sadly it is just not in our nature. But how does the group keep Jesus first? How do they encourage one another and keep accountability within the group?
Here are some tips for developing and maintaining accountability within your small group.
- Focus on spiritual growth. People may have a number of friends, but who are the ones that help develop and encourage their spiritual growth? Small groups are likely the one community with the sole intention of spiritual growth. Whatever each person is facing in life, as a group they walk with that person through it, keeping a biblical perspective and obedience to God’s ways at the forefront. Before doing anything else together, the small group does the things that will strengthen and grow its members spiritually—keeping Jesus first. The Bible should be at the core of your small group and the reason for meeting if you are focused on spiritual growth and living life like Jesus. Plan times for fellowship and fun but keep the Bible and prayer priority. Recognize the spiritual transformation that is taking place among group members and celebrate their walks with Jesus. (See Col. 1:9-14.)
- Keep the group small. Ideally, a small group will have no more than twelve people. Smaller numbers emphasize the importance of everyone attending and meeting together regularly. With a smaller group, if someone does not show up, everyone notices, and it impacts the whole group. When everyone shows up and is engaged, real discipleship can take place. Accountability to show up is organically built into the group. Attendance is not optional. As the group members continue spending time together, they will forge deeper relationships and share common memories of celebration and sorrow. Guide the group to form a community that sticks together through the good and bad days of life. As a group, live out John 13:35 in front of a watching world, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- Share information of substance. A small group setting is one of the best ways for people to open up and share deep truths about themselves. It is intended to be a safe place for members to share, avoiding the superficial and shallow. It should also be a place where speaking the truth in love reigns, avoiding condemnation and judgment. As members share concerns and struggles, the group keeps all information confidential. Establish ground rules for sharing and responses and remind the members often of these boundaries for the benefit of the community. As members share, ask how the group can help hold one another accountable to their commitments or steps for change. Ask about and pray for the specific commitments or action steps every time you gather as a group. Avoid hiding struggles and allow confession to be a normal part of the group. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16a).
- Build trust. Over time the group will build trust with one another, which encourages more depth and meaning within their conversations and relationships. Encourage group members to be mindful of their facial expressions, body language, and responses when others share information of substance. Validate the feelings and struggles of group members and maintain an emotionally healthy and safe environment. Each person’s story is her story to tell. No one else should take on that role of responsibility. What happens in a small group stays in a small group! “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another” (Rom. 12:10). One of the best ways you can honor someone is by being a trustworthy, loyal friend.
- Set the expectations. Accountability is essential to ensure that those who commit to the small group see it through. Set your meeting times and keep them consistent. Remind the group that the meeting time is intended for the benefit of each member, and this means keeping it a priority. Attendance is expected. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Meeting together with other believers is important in our walk with Jesus. The group can fall apart if everyone is not committed to the group. Resentment builds among the group when members don’t do their part, don’t show up, or don’t follow through on commitments. People will only meet the expectations you set forth. But you know what? They will usually rise to the occasion. At the same time remember to keep expectations reasonable for the group. Their time together should be a time they enjoy and look forward to—with expectations that they will leave encouraged, built up, and closer to God and one another.
Accountability within a small group does not need to be awkward or uncomfortable. Actually, it should be expected. God delights in communing with us, and we should delight in those people who help us commune with Him. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be part of a small group that builds one another up, challenges one another to go deeper with God, and helps one another discover and develop their spiritual gifts. But for all of that to happen, the group needs to commit to one another to be devoted friends. “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). As small group members hold one another accountable, their time together can be the catalyst for women to feel a sense of purpose, use their gifts, and produce fruit for the kingdom of God.
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with Lifeway Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to Lifeway. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.