As explained elsewhere, building Christian community is simply the group dynamics related to trust and openness. Openness of a personal nature requires trust. The more you trust someone, the more you are willing and able to disclose your life and what is going on in your life to that group. The more you disclose your life, the more people are able to enter into a relationship with you where love, encouragement, ministry can occur.
Ministry occurs with the most significant results when it impacts who we really are: fears, hopes, temptations, doubts, fears, desires, troubles and pressures. For this to occur we must open ourselves up and share these things; for this to occur there has to be opportunity (in a successful small group) and trust in the other parties. Trust must be built over time as you get to know people and as you understand they will honor the commitments made in the group to you (e.g. confidentiality, etc. to be explained more fully elsewhere).
During Differentiation people are getting restless. They feel like there needs to be more; they trust each other enough to risk changing and to risk changes; sometimes there is restlessness. They are not as happy anymore! For a leader this can be difficult. The basic thing that needs to happen is the group needs to have an evaluation and contracting discussion and they need to talk about what is going on. Possible outcomes of this stage include: Continue reading
During this stage, people are beginning to trust each other. They begin to talk in terms of “we” and “us” and “our group.” This stage can take a year or more. However, groups will typically go through stages of trust cycles. A new member comes in and the trust level moves down. A confidence is broken and the trust goes down. There are two indicators of how well the group is doing in this stage (i.e., the level of trust in the group)
First, are members of the group discussing only what is safe for them to discuss? Or are they becoming more vulnerable because they trust others with that information. Types of conversation are listed below from less trusting to more trusting. Continue reading
The second stage is orientation. During this stage, people may or may not understand the commitments and purpose of the group, depending upon how the Pre-Contracting stage was handled.
Often people are unsure that they want to be there. They are making decisions about how much they want to be personally invested in the group. They are getting to know what the group is all about, whether others can be trusted, and whether they want to be considered a part of this group. The question they are asking ultimately is whether the group is worth it for them. Continue reading
Pre-contracting is considered a stage of small group life in that whatever happens in this arena really does “set the stage” for what will happen after. Therefore it is an important process that should be considered a part of the group life. By pre-contracting I mean the communication that takes place between the parties establishing group purpose, structures and commitments and prospective members.
The manner in which this is communicated, how it is communicated, whether it comes directly from the Small Group Leader will likely set the stage for relationships in the group with the leader. Continue reading
It is important to understand that a small group goes through a “life cycle” just as a person does. The small group starts to meet basically as strangers or many times even with relationships, without any real knowledge of the other person’s background or walk with God.
As time progresses, the group grows closer to one another. Ideally, they come to a point where relationship are sound enough for people to challenge each other as necessary in different areas of their lives. At some point, the group will begin to “tire” or members will want a different kind of group. So the group will come to a close. Continue reading
Small groups can provide opportunities for outreach. These outreach opportunities are largely built upon and see their success as a result of the relationships that have been established in the group. Jesus’ words “all men will know you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another” is the primary and natural means of outreach through these groups. The groups themselves typically would create these outreach opportunities through “social events” or other activities they might have together or with others that provide low barrier opportunities for unsaved spouses or friends to meet and spend time with members of the group. If a particular group has an emphasis upon outreach them the group’s unique over-riding purpose might be to reach out to others and the structure of the group will be developed to support that primary purpose.
Prayer is an essential part of our relationship with God as well as a way that we express our worship. Small groups provide a unique opportunity for enhancing prayer and worship in our lives. Specifically, in small groups we can learn from others how to pray and we can experience prayer for ourselves in this group setting. Prayer in this setting can also be unique because it can be directed for others in the group, as a means of expressing faith toward God and love for others at the same time. Prayer for others’ communicated needs is a powerful expression of the love of God. Music can be introduced into the group and singing can be integrated into the group life at the right time as an expression of worship.
Not only will you see God work in others’ lives, but there is a host of other benefits not only to those in the group, but to you, others in the group, others in others’ groups, and the church overall! For instance:
People learn to love and are loved,
rather than be apathetic;
People learn to accept and are accepted,
rather than be judgmental;
People learn to foster and champion unity,
rather than sow discord;
People learn to forgive and are forgiven,
rather than hold grudges;
People learn to grow closer to others,
rather than further apart;
People learn to resolve their own conflict,
rather than allow it to fester;
People learn to serve one another,
rather than remain passive;
People learn to use their gifts,
rather than just sit and soak;
People learn to support one another,
rather than face life alone;
People learn to trust God,
rather than turn from God;
People learn from each other’s faith,
rather than thinking its impractical;
People grow spiritually,
rather than die spiritually;
People learn to be leaders in the church,
rather than spectators;
People are attracted to the church,
rather than turned off by the church;
People come to know the Lord,
rather than turn from Him;
People in the church are honestly just happier,
and they’re not dis-content;
Finally, the Pastor sleeps much better at night,
knowing God is working in Groups.
Biblical fellowship, or what I call here “community”, is the relationships that exist when believers are, because they are members of one another and a part of God’s family together, are living out and fulfilling God’s wishes, commands, and principles in relationship to one another. That is, they are bearing one another’s burdens, serving one another, forgiving one another, loving one another, being patient with one another, etc. They are using their gifts in ministry for the benefit of one another. For this kind of community to come into being, people must be able to get to know one another (you really can’t love “in theory”). Small groups provide a framework or people to be guided in getting to know one another, support one another, minister to one another, and ultimately experience the kind of community and biblical fellowship Christ intended for his church. This cannot occur in a large group setting and is extremely difficult if not impossible for believers to achieve on their own without the support of the church and small group structures for achieving this. Hebrews 10:24,25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” You must get together with others to create the environment for building community, so that you might encourage them where needed, and spur them toward love and good deeds.