small group dynamics

edDSC_6863.jpgChristian Community is far more holistic than just a bunch of meetings strung together, but when we do come together, I’ve found that it’s not always best to “go with the flow.” In other words, a little intentionality and focus is always in order (while leaving room for the Spirit to work, of course). A friend sent me these pretty practical pointers regarding small group dynamics among Christians (many of them apply, of course, to other groups as well). These aren’t without fault, but hey — what is? Take ’em for what they are.

Enjoy. [from JoshHunt.com, HT: Taylor]


Twelve ways to create community in your group

Life is a better life when it is lived together.

Sunday School is not school. Your class is not a class. You are not a teacher who imparts information.

Groups — Sunday School style or home groups — are a microcosm of the church and are the main place where we live out church life together. Here are twelve tips on turning your group into a hot-house of community.

1. Vision cast

Everything starts with vision. Vision from the pastor. Vision from the Sunday School teacher. The vision is that group is not just about delivering content. It is not just about studying the Bible. It is also about getting to know one another. It is about community. It is about love. We can’t love each other if we don’t know each other. Group is about getting to know God and each other.

2. Arrange the chairs

Circles are better than rows.

3. Ask Good Questions

Question and answer is the best way to teach adults. I believe in this so much I write three fresh, new lessons a week. For details, see www.joshhunt.com/vault.htm

4. Begin with a Get-to-know-you time

You can do this one of three or four ways.

  • Start with a get-to-know-you question. Here is an example. “Let’s start today with everyone introducing themselves and what is your favorite kind of dessert.” By opening the door of each person’s life each week, you help to get to know each other, little by little. If I can, I try to relate this question to the topic of the day. If I can’t think of a way, I still ask the question. Over time, people will learn a lot about each other; where they work, their favorite this, favorite that, birth order, kids, hobbies, and so forth. [Steve’s Note: In home communities we’ve been a part of in the past, we’ve called this “table talk,” and it’s actually done at the meal. Each week, a different person is responsible for bringing a “table talk” question. Questions then run the spectrum from super serious to silly, but they are all giving each person another peek into their brothers’ and sisters’ lives]
  • Have one person give a five-minute overview of their life: where they were born, where they have lived, marriage, kids, and key points spiritually.
  • Allow the group to all ask one question of one person in the group.
  • Arrange the chairs so that people face each other in small group huddles of about four. Have some questions on the chairs. This way, as soon as people walk in they start talking. Or course, once the group really gets to know one another this kind of thing is unnecessary, and sometimes a nuisance.

5. End with prayer requests.

I don’t start with prayer requests as they tend to go too long. We want to create community, but we don’t want it to take the whole hour. Reserve some time at the end of the hour for prayer requests.

6. Be vulnerable

If you want people to open up and be honest, you have to open up and be honest. They will not do what you do not do, no matter how much you talk about it.

Of course, like many things in life, balance is of the essence. There is such a thing as sharing too much with too many. Most groups, however, err on the side of being too formal and stuffy. Tell us what is happening, really.

7. Party

Sunday morning is only part of group life. Groups need to get together other times as well. I recommend you have a once a month “all skate” party where you invite every member and every prospect. I also recommend that you have a number of other events as time allows. Have people into your home. Go out to lunch with them. Go eat after church. Enjoy sporting events together. [Steve’s Note: A few years ago, I heard John Eldredge speak at a conference. He is a part of a home community in Colorado. He told the story of a time in the group a few years back when everyone seemed beaten down by the world … cynical, grumpy, in need of something different. Their group put its collective head together and decided that what they needed was to have a ball. When I say “ball,” think Cinderella. They rented out a posh banquet facility at a local hotel, pitched in to make and order some gourmet foods, dressed to the nines — women in formal dresses and men in tuxes — and hired a DJ. Oh, and the kids came too. John said that many of those who came commented that they never felt “allowed” to let loose and celebrate, let alone dance! That single event breathed life into a tired group, and my understanding is that Eldredge’s group makes it a habit now to regularly hold such celebrations.]

8. Mission projects.

It is not enough to learn together and play together, and talk together. Do things together. Go on mission trips together. Work together. Build together. Travel together. Look for ways to accomplish things for God together. Help each other move. Shared common experiences build community. [Steve’s Note: Community necessarily becomes “communitas.” Comunitas is from the Latin and it means partnership, joint participation, fellowship, community or kinship. It implies some shared action. It is not enough to remain community, because many communities are inwardly focused and dormant.]
9. Open your home

It is hard to imagine having a friend that I had not been in his home and he had not been in mine. There is something about sharing life together in each other’s homes that builds community.

10. Tell your story

We don’t just have one story. We have dozens. Tell yours. All of yours:

  • Having kids story.
  • Spiritual highlights story.
  • Spiritual struggles story.
  • Career story.
  • Geographical story.
  • How you learned to be consistent in your quiet time story.
  • How you discovered your spiritual gifts story.

11. Be there for each other

In every life the rains will come. Sooner or later they will come to the people in your group. When the rains come, hold an umbrella for a friend.

Or course, it is not the rains that are the problem. It is the storms–the really bad storms. Eventually, the really bad storms–the train wrecks will come to everyone. When they do, be there for each other. Do all you can, but mostly be there.

Be at the hospital. Be at the funeral home. Be there. Take the time. Take the trip. Pay the price. Be there.

If money is the need, take up an offering. Share the burdens of life together. Watch the kids. Clean the house. Fix the meals. Do what you can. Be there.

12. Eat

There is something about eating together. Eat often. Eat a lot. Studies prove that the more unhealthy the food, the better the community. (I just made that up.)

Create a calendar where people can sign up to bring snacks. Go to lunch after church. Have food with your fellowships.

Sunday School is not a school. It is not a class. It is a microcosm of the church. Be the church to each other. Don’t just go to church; be the church. Do what churches do. Do all the one another stuff:

  • Love one another
  • Serve one another
  • Bear with one another
  • Admonish one another
  • Forgive one another
  • Listen to one another
  • Encourage one another.

Life is a better life when it is lived together.

[Steve’s Note: Amen.]

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3 responses to this post.

  1. We’ve been doing something fun the past few Sundays when we gather at our house. Someone chooses a Bible story; take the prodigal son, for example. One person starts the story and asks each person to contribute a part until the story is told. We are encouraged to “read between the lines,” i.e. make suppositions about details that were not explicitly revealed in the text. After the story is told, we then discuss what that means for us today. How will that affect the way we live this week? etc.

    Everyone seems to really get into this way of studying the word.

    Reply

  2. Steve:

    This is excellent. I’m going to refer my fellow bloggers to this post. And also send it to our men’s class group e-mail. I may suggest that our men’s class spend a Sunday going over all those points in one class. We’re in a transition point where we’re about finished with the book we’re working through (ironicaly, John Eldredge’s excellent WAKING THE DEAD).

    Thanks, brother.

    Reply

  3. Thanks for the thoughts on community and small groups. God made us for community and our culture has stripped us of it. We are no longer connected to others like we once were. Air conditioning has removed the front porch conversations and garages have made our homes fortresses of individualism.

    The 12 things mentioned are really good.
    1 – Very important for members to hear from the pulpit on a weekly basis and from the elders the importance of the groups and an expectation that people will be in a group regularly.
    2 – Circles are always better. We don’t come to group to stare at the backs of heads. We come to discuss. The leader should not be seated higher than others even within the circle as that can kill dialogue and promote monologue.
    3 – This is key. Inductive (which I posted on some time back (http://mattdabbs.blogspot.com/search/label/Teaching)
    is extremely important for the reasons listed in that post. There is a great resource called “How to Ask Great Questions” by Karen Lee-Thorp that is worth its weight in gold and should be made familiar to all group leaders.
    4 – Icebreakers are great and prime the discussion pump.
    5 – Great idea to end with these as something in the lesson may also prompt someone.
    6 – A tough one because we just aren’t used to it. I try to regularly tell our leaders that the best way to get people to open up on the tough questions is to be willing to open up yourself and model appropriate reactions of love toward those who open up about uncomfortable things.
    7 – Something we need to work on. I tell the leaders this but it rarely happens on its own unless specifically planned by someone on staff.
    9 – We have lost the art of hospitality that was so evident in the first century church. Small groups certainly help reclaim that.
    12 – You have to be careful with the food because the guys all love it and the women all hate it! It is so important that groups are on the same page when it comes to food to not get burnt out. I normally discourage it but I have seen it work well too.

    Thanks for these challenging thoughts. We need to hear them over and over again.

    Reply

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