“How can we create deeper community in our small groups?”
If you are a pastor or a small group leader, you have probably asked that question. You know that God calls us not only to deeper union with himself but also to deeper union with one another, and you hope your small groups can facilitate that. You want your small groups to be places where people experience true Christian friendship and find real belonging in the church. You yourself long for a loving fellowship where you can know others and be known by others.
When it comes to creating deeper community in our small groups, however, our solutions tend to be quantitative. We think that if only we had more we would have deeper community: more time in our meetings, more social activities for getting to know one another, more books for learning about the Christian life, more group chats for connecting during the week. These well-intended solutions, however, seem to fall short of creating the deep community we desire.
In fact, the lasting solution for creating deeper community in our small groups has very little to do with more. Rather, it has to do with being committed to a simple yet countercultural practice: conversation.
Sociologist Sherry Turkle has recently observed that in our culture of digital technology there is a clear “flight from conversation.” While we are more connected than ever through email, text, and social media, we are losing both the ability and the desire to have face-to-face conversations—which, in turn, is leading to a loss of community.
The practice of conversation—speaking and then listening with undivided attention—is central to developing deeper community. In small groups, this practice takes a particular form: namely, conversation about God and our life in him. Deep community happens over time as people come together to talk about what God is doing in their lives.
Deep community happens over time as people come together to talk about what God is doing in their lives.
This past year, the small group that I co-lead has made a concerted effort to devote significant time each week to talking about our relationships with God. After studying John Wesley’s small group methodology through the work of Kevin Watson’s The Class Meeting, we decided to move away from a study-driven group and toward a group whose primary focus is discussing the state of our souls.
Each week, we answer questions such as: How is your walk with God? Where have you sensed God’s presence? How close do you feel to God? What is keeping you from a closer relationship with God? What is God saying to you? How is God working in your life? Some weeks, we struggle to find the words to express what God is doing in our lives. Other weeks, the words flow freely as we long for a place to be heard.
Over time, these conversations about our life in God have deepened our union with God and with each other in a way that no study could have. Talking about God’s work in our lives has enabled us to share more intimately in each other’s joys and sufferings. It has helped us to pray more personally and specifically for one another. It has given us more awareness of our vulnerability and our need for each other for growth in grace.
To retrieve the practice of conversation in small groups is simply to do what the church does best: speak of God and his work in history and in our own stories.
To retrieve the practice of conversation in small groups is simply to do what the church does best: speak of God and his work in history and in our own stories. When Christians come together in small groups to “tell of God’s righteous acts” in their lives (Psalm 71:15) and listen to one another with undivided attention, then deeper community will follow. Deeper community cannot be forced through pragmatic efforts; it can, however, be nurtured through conversation that centers on God’s gracious activity in our lives.
If we want to create deeper community in our small groups (and, consequently, our churches), the solution is uncomplicated but countercultural. We must relearn how to talk with one another about God’s work in our lives.