4 Keys to Flourishing Small Group Friendships in 2023

Everyone knows in their heads that friendships are important. The pandemic seemed to heighten interest in the topic of friendship. You could hardly turn on your phone or TV without a significant number of popular culture events and stories through the news and social medias related to the subject.

But the experience of many is that we’re in a pronounced decline when it comes to experiencing friendships. The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey[1] came to the following findings about people and their friendship experiences.

  • Fewer close friendships than they once did.
  • Talking to their friends less often.
  • Relying less on their friends for personal support.

Small Groups are the strategic place where friendships are made. We need to be intentional about making friends and connections throughout our Small Group efforts. Here are four key steps and skills that you need to develop in order to get the most out of your Small Group friendships.

1. Vulnerability Takes Practice. Our modern, 21st century live puts a premium on having our life together. Our teeth are straight and gleaming white. All our social media posts only talk about the success of ourselves and those around us. So, to become vulnerable, we have to practice it over and over, moving forward in step.

And just in case you’re normal, this is going to make you feel uncomfortable. The first time you try to be vulnerable it’s going to feel like someone’s pushing your guts through an emotional sausage grinder.

But like all things that we learn, it will get easier over time. If it takes practice to learn how to play a musical instrument, hit a golf ball, or drive a car, so it will take practice to become more and more vulnerable.

“I don’t believe that two people have the capacity to connect unless they both have their guards down, and one of the best ways to get people to relax is to lead with vulnerability.”

Will Guidara[2]

2. There’s No Autopilot Option. Cars and planes have autopilot capabilities. All digital devices come with defaults that will get you going. But there’s nothing inside of us that will automatically guide us along the path to building connections and friendships.

I’d venture to say that the first tools we used to develop relationships no longer work. For example, how many times did you meet someone for coffee in years gone by? Today, there’s an undercurrent of distrust. The default for many is to avoid new people and public places. We need new strategies to spend time with people.

Be creative by asking more than one person to join you. Bring along someone that they already know and trust. This will give you an opportunity to prove yourself to them. Building trust one step at a time.

The people we spend time with daily have a “very large impact” on our well-being.

Gabrielle Pfund[3]

3. Leverage Events. When there’s a public gathering, use that time to start building connections and relationships. Use the event as a connection point, reaching out to those on the fringes. Those who are standing alone around the edges

Avoid the temptation that you need to meet as many people as possible at the event. Trying to collect as many three-second fist bumps not only will waste your time, but it will construct your opportunities to meet new people. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Small Group leaders run around like it was some connection drive-by shooting. That there was some Recommended Daily Amount, RDA, for minimum-daily-requirement that they were trying to achieve.

“We need to be looking for connection over perfection.”

Will Guidara

4. Collect Casual Connections. Look for ways to informally connect with people throughout the week. While blasting out a text to the group has its place, this is more about an individual than the group.

Don’t make a science project out of these casual connections during the week. They should be short and sweet. Remember, receiving a short text might be more important than you’ll ever know.

One casual connection isn’t going to change the world. But by reaching out to someone in the middle of the week sends a powerful message that they are remembered. That they are cared for. That they are loved.

“Even sending a brief message reaching out to check in on someone, just to say ‘Hi,’ that you are thinking of them, and to ask how they’re doing, can be appreciated more than people think”

Peggy Liu[4]

Small Groups are where friendships are germinated, leading to deeper connection and intimacy. It’s in the safe harbor of Small Groups that many come to Christ.

I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

John 4:35 NIV

For me personally, God used a Small Group to draw me to Himself. I’ve never known anything else other than Small Groups all these many years with Jesus.

Has there ever been a more important time for Small Groups?


[1] The state of American friendship: Change, challenges, and loss

[2] Will Guidara is an American restaurateur based in New York City .His new book Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More than They Expect (Optimism Press, October 2022) shares the “unreasonable” strategies that led his restaurants to the top

[3] Gabrielle Pfund is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine

[4] Peggy Liu is the Ben L. Fryrear Chair in Marketing and an associate professor of business administration with the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business.

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