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You have a new group. Right now, it’s mostly made up of people who are excited about what you’re studying, or just happened to live nearby and be free on Tuesday nights. How can you lead the way in moving this from a group of people with loose commonalities to a group of friends?
- Value individuals
One of the main reasons people join groups is to be known. This is why it is so important to make space in meetings for everyone to have a voice and share their perspective. Outside of discussion, though, the tendency is to look at the group as a whole rather than as individuals. How do we avoid that? Instead of only communicating through group messaging, make a plan to contact individuals as well. I’m not great at this, so I actually schedule time in my calendar to check in with each person about once per month. This can be in person or through a phone call or text. Of course, most of us naturally connect more often than that, but this ensures I’m keeping up with everyone and not just those I’m closest to.Another way to value individuals is to never cancel a meeting due to low attendance. If even one or two others can join you, make the most of that time. By not canceling, you communicate that each individual’s presence and commitment to the group is important. Every opportunity you have to get together with anyone from your group is a chance to build relationships. One statement from Steve Gladen I often remind myself of is “Don’t mistake low attendance for low importance”.
- Engage outside of your regular meetings
People who only gather for scheduled meetings are typically called co-workers. Friends are people we love to be with. I recently attended a birthday party for the child of someone in my group. The only people there were family and our small group! I was so taken aback to realize how close we had become as a group that they would consider us some of their closest friends.Developing this kind of culture in your group can be as easy as inviting people in your group to join you in the things you’re already doing. Planning a trip to the park or zoo with your family? Invite another family to come along. Do you have a regular board game night? Try to have a guest from your group each time. Notice, this doesn’t mean each of your activities becomes an activity for your entire group. This is an extension of valuing the individual. How can you set the tone for your group by inviting people into your life outside of group meetings?
- Serve one another
Serving together is a healthy part of any small group. Serving one another is a sign of healthy friendships. Is there space and safety in your group to share needs or ask for and offer help? This can start as simply as cleaning up your host’s home after group meetings. Beyond that, I’ve seen group members help each other with home or car repairs and offer to babysit for another group member’s date night.
- Celebrate milestones and accomplishments together
In an age where most Happy Birthdays and Congratulations are triggered by a social media notification, an actual card or treat goes a long way to show that your group cares more than a few keystrokes. You may even find someone in your group loves to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries and is willing to take the lead on celebrating them.Has someone in your group recently taken a next step in their faith like baptism or received a new degree or a promotion at work? Don’t let that simply be a praise during prayer. Take a little time to celebrate with them!
- Pray together
When we hear each other’s prayers, we hear each other’s hearts. Prayer is not just a way to open and close your time together. It’s a time to share in one another’s passions, concerns, joys, and hurts. It’s an opportunity to show immediate care and love. If you find your group is constantly running out of time to pray, consider beginning every meeting with time set aside to pray together. You can also create a culture of prayer in your group by not allowing yourself to be the designated pray-er and creating opportunities for your group to pray for and with one another.
For more on this topic as well as some practical suggestions, check out chapters 5 and 6 of Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen.