Help your Church's Small Groups Climb Toward Intimacy
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2005 11 Sep
The people in your church's small groups are like mountain climbers on a mission. They're meant to be teammates who grow together as they reach for higher and higher goals. And God wants them to eventually arrive at the summit of all relationships - intimacy.
Here's how you can help those in your church's small groups climb toward intimacy:
Believe in the dream.
Emphasize that small groups are well worth the hassles involved in joining and participating in them. Assure people that, by relying on God's power, they can overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way and enjoy significant, lasting, and meaningful relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Prepare well at base camp.
Help the people in each small group get to know each other. Have them each discover their own God-given strengths and how they can grow personally from participating in the group. Have them learn about the strengths of all the other people in their group, respect those strengths, and value them. Urge them to invest the time it takes to discover the values, beliefs, styles, and attitudes of those in their group. Have small group members spend lots of time together, both planned and spontaneously. Expect that some people will have trouble opening up to others in their group about their lives at first. Encourage them to rest in God's unconditional love for them and reveal their true selves so they can obtain the blessing of close relationships. Help small group members blend their differences to build unity. Motivate them to draw upon all their strengths to love and serve one another.
Take the first steps toward the summit through commitment.
Understand that fellowship together in a small group requires commitment - the foundation on which deeper relationships are built. Emphasize that the element of commitment is what makes a small group different from a group people join just because they have something in common (such as a playgroup for parents with young kids or a dinner club for couples). Encourage small group members to make a commitment to God first and foremost. Then ask them to make a commitment to other believers, and to the members of their small group, in particular.
Make intimacy the stated goal of every small group in your church. Urge group members to follow Christ's example by giving others the same things Christ gave His disciples - love and time. Have them commit to sharing their lives with each other so that no one stands alone and everyone cares and is cared for. Encourage members to be willing to confront others when they offend them rather than withdrawing from relationships. Ask them to abide by the decision of the majority when they are in the minority, without quitting. Motivate them to give sacrificially of their time when someone needs them instead of choosing not to be inconvenienced. Make sure that everyone in the groups has the confidence to speak their minds and be themselves without fear of rejection or causing others to leave. Challenge small group members to surrender every aspect of their lives to God and rely on His strength to help them make the necessary commitments. Support every one of your small group members in prayer.
Move up to the next level through honesty.
Encourage small group members to go beyond the superficial in their relationships. Understand that honesty is what drives small groups into deeper relationships with each other. Urge group members to commit to be honest about who they really are and help others feel comfortable enough to do the same. Strive to make your church's small groups safe places to be transparent and vulnerable. Emphasize that God loves people despite their sin, and shows them grace and mercy. Motivate group members to unmask themselves so that others can enter their lives and walk through their experiences with them.
Ascend toward acceptance.
Rather than looking at others through a lens of self-righteousness or criticism, urge small group members to choose to accept others for who they really are. Help them understand that they must give others the freedom to be themselves in the group. Take the focus off law, rules, and measuring up, and place it on acceptance, grace, and mercy. Remind group members that they are loved unconditionally by God, and encourage them to respond to that great love by letting it flow through them toward other people. Emphasize the power of unconditional love to draw people toward God and transform their lives. Strive to have each of your small groups be a testimony of God's love in action.
Prepare for the summit through trust.
Recognize that trust is the safety net that allows your church's small groups to brave the heights of authentic relationships. Help your groups' members develop strong character traits so they can live lives of integrity that are worth of trust. Understand that trust tends to multiply. Instead of demanding trust from others, encourage members to create trustworthiness in others by first being trustworthy themselves. Ask members to consider whether or not they follow through on their commitments, are truthful, make the effort to be clearly understood by others, and see others trusting them. Understand that people need to know the answers to some key questions before they can trust others in their group: What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they make decisions? How do they react to stress or pressure? Do they have similar values and goals? Encourage group members to explore these issues with each other so they can reliably place their trust in each other.
Reach the summit of intimacy.
Emphasize that it takes willpower to reach this highest level of relationships. Motivate group members to be relentless in the pursuit of ever closer, ever deepening relationships in their groups. Let them know that intimacy transforms the people who achieve it. Once there, they will never want to settle for lesser heights in their relationships again. But recognize that something as precious as intimacy can't be gained without a cost.
Encourage group members to be willing to give all of themselves to the cause of achieving intimate relationships with others in their group. Motivate them to overcome obstacles like busyness and distraction with persistent, intentional effort to devote time to their relationships. Urge them to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to support each other. Encourage them to be steadfast in their relationships, through both good and tough times. Remind them that the destination of intimacy is worth the journey, because it brings life's greatest blessings into their lives - an abundance of love and faith. Help them understand that investing in their small group relationships is investing in eternity, because intimate relationships with other believers will last forever.
Learn from your experiences.
Don't get discouraged if some of your small group's relationships fizzle out before they reach the summit. Encourage group members to get as far as they can go in their relationships. If some relationships end, help people take as much as they can away from the experiences, and try again with new relationships.
Adapted from Leading from your Strengths: Building Intimacy in your Small Group by John Trent, Rodney Cox, and Erick Tooker, copyright 2005 by Insights International, Inc. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.broadmanholman.com.
John Trent, Ph.D. is chairman and CEO of Insights International, which provides behavioral assessments primarily to individuals and organizations within the Christian community. He has authored or co-authored many best-selling books, including HeartShift, The Blessing, The Two Sides of Love (a Gold Medallion winner), LifeMapping, and Love for All Seasons. Dr. Trent has been a featured guest on radio and television programs like Dr. James Dobson's "Focus on the Family," Dr. Charles Swindoll's "Insight for Living," and many more.
Rodney Cox is cofounder of Insights International and has facilitated workshops and products that focus on understanding how individual behavior affects organizational effectiveness. He is now engaged in the full-time ministry of equipping Christian leaders and their ministry staffs to lead from their strengths.
Eric Tooker is president of Insights International, primarily responsible for its business operations, and is increasingly involved in teaching its core principles to individuals in churches, on ministry teams, in businesses, and in families.