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Community group question

Can someone explain to me how you build family in small church groups that people may leave after a year or two?

If they are supposed to be like family, how do you accomplish something that takes years to develop amongst friends, much less immediate or extended family?

What I mean is, there’s a sense of closeness and trust with parents and siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, grandparents, nephews, nieces that is inherently there in a healthy family relationship. You may grow closer over the years, but the inherent trust and sense of belonging stands. Obviously this will not be the case in a badly dysfunctional family, or in a case where there’s been abuse, betrayal, etc.

Yet, in a small group, you are put into a situation with strangers or people you nominally know and expected to do serious, intense ‘community’ with these people. Tell them the kind of things you wouldn’t tell your family. Serve them constantly. Do ‘life together’ with them.

Then, when that group is split up for whatever reason the next year or the year after…do life together with the next bunch of people. And do it with the next bunch a few years afterward. And on and on and on.

Forgive me for questioning something that apparently is crucial to what most American church leaders believe is vital to church health. I’m not questioning the need for small groups – done right they’re much better than sitting in the crowd on Sunday mornings – but the assumption that small/community groups will eventually become family for people.

I wonder if church leaders and small group experts underestimate the amount of time and ‘life together’ it takes to really feel at home with people. I wonder if I understimate – or overestimate – the amount of time and commitment such an endeavor takes.

What do you think? Where am I on target? Where am I off? What is your view on the matter?

  1. TonyP.
    August 5, 2010 at 10:27 am


    I think you are on track.

    Originally I think that small groups started coming to life because people wanted a more close-knit community that they feel they are able to experience in a larger church environment. However, many churches seem to be trying to force people into this in an effort to keep the “church” active while allowing the small groups to provide a sort of life support for the potentially dying church itself.

    I think that many people are just tired of the whole church vibe. Too much emphasis in many circles is the church as a business, vice church as the Body.

    One of the reasons it is easier with family is that you are stuck with them ๐Ÿ™‚ . In most, not all certainly, circumstances if there are issues you are more willing to work them out because they are family in the accepted use of the word.

    One of the hardest things to do for many of us is trust another person, even one that we are related to. To expect a group of strangers, or at best acquaintences, to develop that level of acceptance is a bit rose-colored IMO.

    I like the idea of small groups, and if it is truly driven by a group of folks that seek that closer relationship that it is supposed to entail I think it could work. Unfortunately it seems to be becoming another church program.

    My $1.00 ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. jlo
    August 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Not only are you on track, I think you hit it out of the park.

  3. August 5, 2010 at 1:47 pm


    There’s an awful lot in your post for one that brief. Which is sort of the kernel of my response.

    I used to do theater in school and drama ministry at a previous church. Ever seen the movie “Shakespeare in Love”? The sense of community that forms when you’re all thrown together in the intense experience of getting a full length play from casting to curtain calls creates a tremendous bond, sometimes in as little as a matter of weeks. And a precious few of the relationships I’ve had that started that way, I could pick up the phone or drop an email, and fall right back into a comfortable, honest and real conversation.

    When Chris and I were a military family, we moved about every 2-3 years. Since everyone else was also moving every 2-4 years, and no one was on the same schedule, most friendships had a “we live near each other” life span of maybe 6 months to a year. But one of my dearest friends is one of those relationships, and we really only had 6 months of living in the same country together.

    What I’m getting at is this: we click with some people, create those “like family” bonds, for reasons that I have to chalk up to “mystery.” And honestly, the people I’ve clicked like that with, the clicking was pretty fast. There are other dear friendships that, for reasons related to my general trust level at the time, took much longer to develop. And there are a lot of really lovely, sweet, Godly people who for some unfathomable reason, I will probably never feel comfortable or at ease around.

    I think that we’re really only meant to have a handful, maybe a dozen or so, truly fraternal (or I guess sororital) relationships in a lifetime. And even fewer at any one point in time will be really active.

    So we shift seats. We change buses. We put ourselves in the path of strangers by the dozen, and let the Spirit do it’s work of matching us up with our “soul mates” (not in the romantic sense, but in the sense of “soul friends” or as the Irish say, anam chara).

    This is a bit grueling, especially if you’re an introvert. But part of the process, I think, is about your own spiritual formation. In the same way that Gary Thomas insists that marriage exists to make us holy, not happy, and that marriage is a spiritual discipline; I think relationships, friendships, exist for the same reason.

    It’s hard because it’s meant to be. Because your tribe, your community, is a net woven slowly over time, and sometimes threads break and have to be replaced, but on the whole, the whole thing works.

    Just my $.02. Sorry for the length, I lack the gift of brevity.

  4. August 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    jlo, thanks.

    Tony, I feel ya…I suppose you have to work at it to make it something more meaningful than just another church program.

    kat, I will thoughtfully consider your comments. My only question would be with how that net is weaved: how do you weave a strong net in cases where people are jumping from one group to another every 1-2 years and they don’t keep in regular contact, which could easily happen in a large church?

    I have lots of ‘threads’ to people on FB going back to high school, but I wouldn’t say they’re especially strong threads. And I wouldn’t trust most of these people with the kinds of things that the Willow Creeks, Mars Hills, Saddlebacks, Southeasts of the world expect their small group members to trust one another with.

  5. Na'amah
    August 7, 2010 at 2:24 am

    “Obviously this will not be the case in a badly dysfunctional family, or in a case where thereโ€™s been abuse, betrayal, etc.”

    actually BrianD, it is the case, the ‘norm’ to continue in our relationships w family members. Maybe Walt W was right, ‘home’ is where they ‘have to’ take you in’ It is a person w an incredibly strong sense of “self” that is able to break from the bonds of family, even in the case of historical or ongoing dysfunction/abuse, to disengage one’s self worth from a dysfunctional family of origin. And our heavenly Father is definitely ‘up to’ this ‘task’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    The reason the word familiar is related to family.

    TonyP… you identified yourself as one of the formally uneducated at another site. Your insight and words regarding this (as well as many others in many other threads/topics)are insightful and clear.

    I concur w you jlo, TonyP got this one head on, out of the park!

    In a crisis, whether environmental, situational or just ‘perceived’, the human spirit aligns w others in a much shorter timeframe.

    It is the routines of life, such as eating dinner every night or at least 5 x’s a week (even if you bought dinner via drive thru window) that over time creates in our children a sense of ‘connectedness/community’… it is also what makes parents B-O-R-I-N-G and the commitment to marriage (my definition of committment is doing what you know is right, even when you do NOT feel like ‘doing it’) allows couples an opportunity to ‘fall in love again’ or at least realign in contentedness. Since we cannot alter our ‘blood’ connection w family members, and when marriage was ‘until death do we part (except in EXTREME circumstances, not ‘i’m not in love anymore, i cannot pursue my ‘happiness’ adnauseum) we were able (left no ‘choice’) to confront the issues that would grow us, mature us, perhaps make us into the gems He intends us to be.

    I was a member of a 12+ year, wkly bible study in a very large church… i can still contact most of the members of this group, that was broken up approx. 6 yrs ago, and after a very brief culturally appropriate reacquaintance conversation, start up at a level of intimacy as if we’ve been in daily/weekly contact.

    Kat “In the same way that Gary Thomas insists that marriage exists to make us holy, not happy, and that marriage is a spiritual discipline; I think relationships, friendships, exist for the same reason.”

    hmmm Kat, i need to process this and i guess read Thomas’ writings. Truely, i need to consider these words as a licensed psychotherapist.

    BrianD, again, thank you for your time commitment to provide this website to us. I so miss not being able to interact during the day w you… and i am just so FAR behind by the time i get here i just need to lurk.

  6. August 7, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    A lot of this is a failure of the pastor and elders to explain in sermons and teachings WHY we need to be in a small group. Other reasons are – poor leaders who are not carefully selected and poor supervision of these groups by church leaders. I know of churches where members are simply told they need to be in a groups but the pastor explains the reason. Also, he talks about commitment. It is surprising in these churches how well these groups do stay together. But in most churches I’ve either observed myself or heard about, the groups are poorly organizaed, poorly run, and often the members don’t even know why the group exists.

  7. BrianD
    August 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Diane, I will say that my church explains the concepts of small groups and why they do what they do.

  8. BrianD
    August 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Na’amah!

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