Cell Group. Home Group. Life Group. Growth Group. Community Group. Or if your church is varsity, Gospel Community Group. Whatever you call that thing in your church where people meet in homes for fellowship, prayer, and a Bible discussion, below you can find four ways to ruin it.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways to ruin anything. But here are four things that come to mind.
1. Expect Deep Conversation Without Relationship
I’m all for deep biblical conversations. I love talking about the Bible. I wish I could find a few pastors and go through a systematic theology book with them. I’m not a huge fan of small talk, but I thrive on deep, intellectual, honest conversations about life and Jesus and Christianity and theology.
But I’m also a human who works on trust. And that means you and I usually need to develop relational capital before I can trust you with the deep things of my heart.
One way your small group could fail is to expect deep biblical conversations without first developing trust among the group members.
We’re all in Christ so we should skip the relational stuff and dive deeply into the Bible on the first night, right? Probably not. For a new group, it is usually best to spend the first few weeks of a small group on fellowship and fun activities in order to build relational equity for the future.
However this will look for your group, trust must first be built in order to foster deep conversation.
2. Be “Mr. Bible Guy”
You know one when you see one. He (or she) has all the Bible answers. They read their Bible devotionally daily and have for years. They love a good Bible debate and may even be combative or quarrelsome. As soon as a question is asked, they answer it. And they never answer a question without at least quoting 3-5 Scriptures; they want to show you that their response is based on the Bible. Their Bible intelligence is high, but their social intelligence is low.
Praise God that you know your Bible well. It seems as if fewer and fewer Christians do. But understand that if you’re always the first to answer every question and flex your Bible knowledge, you’ll soon be insufferable to be around. It’s off-putting at best and intimidating at worst. Even more, you might discourage others in the group from speaking up because they won’t feel empowered to follow after a person who knows way more about the Bible than they do.
Use the Bible in your answers. But give others a chance to speak, too. Consider how you can be winsome with your words and tactful with your tone. How you say something is just as important as what you say.
3. Be a Chatterbox
This is closely connected to number two. A chatterbox is a person who regularly talks too much. The distinction between Mr. Bible Guy and a chatterbox is that the former drags on about the Bible, and the latter drags on about . . . everything.
We all have hard weeks. It’s a sign of group health when we feel as if we can share what’s going on in our life with others in our group. But this can be overdone. If not careful, one who is in a hard season or one who is particularly outgoing can lead themselves to believe that the group exists for them.
It’s imperative that a small group leader has the courage to confront a chatterbox. Not at first. Give them grace. Wait a bit. But eventually, if he or she doesn’t know when to stop, they need to be lovingly confronted. This is hard to do, and especially hard to do when the person is older than you. But it’s imperative for group health. Chatterboxes should not run the show.
4. Gossip About Others
Small groups should be a place where it’s okay to not be okay. We want people to be responsibly vulnerable. We want small groups to be a place where you can be the real you. Immature Christians have a way of ruining this, and it often comes through gossip.
God hates — hates — gossip. It is utterly destructive for any kind of ministry. The group leaders need to set the tempo on night one. I will say something to my group like, “We want to be a group where it’s okay to not be okay, and where we feel comfortable sharing a few of our shortcomings and struggles. What is shared here, stays here. Please don’t share anything said in this group with those outside the group. Expect me to lovingly confront you if you speak information about anyone in this group to others.”
This is something you particularly have to watch out for in a small church where most people know one another. Many Christians in these kinds of churches wear masks because they feel as if they cannot be themselves in the church out of fear of being exposed. May this never be. If done well, small groups will be a place where the mask will come off, at least slightly.