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3 Things Every Good Small-Group Needs

February 4, 2010

aicflogoclouds_02Today, I met with a few other leaders from our church to discuss a new Sunday night worship/small group we are planning on putting together. Through the planning time, many questions and comments arose, and much discussion was generated. We all have our own ideas about what this small-group/worship time needs, or what any small-group needs. We also all have our own experiences and memories from small-groups we’ve experienced in the past – some good, some great, some not-so-good. However, in considering all the things we discussed, and the things I think Christ would want within a small-group, I’ve compiled this list of the 3 top, most important, basic things that every small-group needs to have in order to be successful. Without these 3 things, a small-group cannot hope to be effective in its mission to draw people into community and deeper relationships with each other and Christ our King.

1. Love

A small-group without love is like a meal with no food. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Likewise, a small group without love is nothing. Love is the substance of small-groups, and the substance of any deep relationship for that matter. As one of the goals of a small-group is to develop deeper friendships with each other, love is imperative as a catalyst for deepening relationships. CS Lewis’ The Four Loves explores the 4 Greek words for love (storge: affection, philia: friendship, eros, agape: charity) – 3 of which are possible to experience within a small-group setting (all except eros).

Wikipedia defines the 3 loves I mentioned as such:

Storge:

Affection (storge, στοργή) is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.

Philia:

Friendship (philia, φιλία) is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity.

Agape:

Charity (agapē, ἀγάπη) is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue.

More directly, within a small group, the 3 loves can be seen in these ways:

Storge comes when people know each other very well, feel comfortable together, can share experiences, desires, hopes, and struggles freely together, and it feels like a part of a family, or very tight-knit group of friends. Storge is the kind of friendship and relationship that all small-groups hope to cultivate, although (at least at first) it can be difficult to do so. Even though Lewis describes this love as the “most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves,” it can be difficult for people who are strangers every day of the week except Sunday to express this kind of love to each other from the very start. But, once members become comfortable with each other (and accept each other, flaws and all), the group can start to take on a familial feel, a very secure and tight-knit comfort, and storge may be readily expressed. A small group in which members feel comfortable to open their lives to one another very honestly with no fear of rejection or judgment is one in which storge is strong and growing.

Philia as Lewis describes it is the least natural (as in biological) in nature. The others are biologically necessary: storge – rearing a child, eros – creating a child, agape – providing for a child. But philia is a kind of love that has the least amount of impulse or emotion, and rather than looking to the loved one as its source, it looks to the “about” part of the friendship as its source. In other words, philia must have a common interest, theme, or “about” that draws people into friendship around it. Within a small group, this would be a shared love of Christ, and a shared desire to worship Him and grow in relationship with Him. From these shared interests, philia love may develop within the small group and may even extend itself beyond the bounds of the small group as members connect with each other throughout the week for shared meals or other shared activities. Increasing shared experiences outside a small group demonstrate a small group that is growing well and has a healthy dose of philia love within it.

Charity is a kind of love that is innate in God’s character and a Christian virtue. It is a selfless love that always seeks the best for its recipient and asks nothing in return. This kind of love can be seen in the modern world through charity organizations, charitable donations to good causes, and the help of some groups of people during times of trouble (the earthquakes in Haiti for example). Charity in a small group may take on many forms, but the key is that it seeks to help others without asking for repayment. This may begin to be visible within a small group when someone volunteers to provide for a certain other need within the group without asking for repayment, or when outside needs are visible, individuals within the group, or the group itself may voluntarily provide for those needs. As this is the highest form of love, charitable giving and service, God’s love can be seen most evidently through a small-group that freely expresses agape.

However, some groups, in their rush to “prove God’s love” may only do charitable acts as a means of drawing attention to themselves, and they may ignore the other loves (storge, philia) that provide a solid context and base for this highest love. Agape, charitable love, never does service or gives for the sake of drawing attention to itself, even to “prove God’s love.” If charity is given in expectation of receiving anything (including simple attention), then it is not truly charity at all, but rather self-serving love posing as selfless love.

2. Communication

Every good small-group needs communication. Communication is no one-way street. Someone can’t talk all the time and expect others to listen all the time. Good communication is an artful blending of the two sides of the street: part speaking, and part listening.

However, within a small-group, communication can sometimes be a hurdle to overcome, particularly in the beginning, and as people begin to be very comfortable with one another. Bring together a handful of people from a dozen different backgrounds and with just as many personalities, and communication is sure to be a thing that doesn’t seem to come naturally, at first. In every group, there are talkers, and there are listeners, and there may be any range of extremes of either of these. At first, talkers will dominate the conversation within the group while listeners seem to just observe. Talkers may get frustrated with them and wonder why they are so quiet, or so shy, or why they “just aren’t open to sharing.” If given free rein, talkers may make those around them feel uncomfortable.

In Korea especially, when we are dealing with two different languages and people with varying skill levels in English (the small-group’s language of choice), it can be very easy for English-speaking “talkers” to carry on a lengthy monologue while those who don’t speak English natively may struggle to follow along, let alone think about their own answers to the questions. Therefore, it is important to always allow everyone an opportunity to share. Equally important is a translator to at least help explain the discussion, ask the questions, and summarize answers if need be. If nothing else, someone who is fluent in both languages may be able to clarify some points that would otherwise not be understood by one or more party.

However, within any small-group setting, bilingual or monolingual, members must also remember the first thing all small groups need: love. Ephesians 4:15 says:

15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

And ultimately, that is the goal of a small-group, to grow up into him. Therefore, when we speak in small-group, we should do so in love. Likewise, when we listen, we should listen with love. And we should allow everyone a chance and part in the discussion. All of these things reflect the characteristics of the THIRD thing every small-group needs: Christ.

3. Christ

Without Christ in a small-group, there wouldn’t be much point of meeting. After all, what separates a Christian small-group from a bowling club meeting, or a weekly poker club besides Christ? All three of those may demonstrate love as mentioned above: strong storge and familial closeness, philia friendship involving shared interests, even charity (charity bowling, or charity poker any one?). And all three of those may also demonstrate good communication: an equal amount of listening, talking, and participation by all members in the group. However, the one thing that Christian small-groups must have inherently present within them in order to be successful is Christ. He is the reason small-groups meet together. He is the goal that small-group members hope to grow into. A deeper relationship with Christ is the deep-seated reason small-groups meet together (though it may not be the only reason).

Some small-groups may demonstrate love and communication in abundance but still be lacking in the most essential ingredient that makes small-groups ultimately successful. Some small-groups meet to find new boyfriends or girlfriends. Some may meet to partake in a shared interest, like music (even worship music and worship teams). Some others may meet to escape boredom at home, or in the real world, some may just be meetings of friends who otherwise “wouldn’t have time” to meet each other. But any small-group that does not have Christ as its central, deeply rooted reason for being, cannot grow as it should. A small-group without Christ cannot grow in deeper relationship with Him, it cannot grow in righteousness or holiness, it cannot grow in charitable service or giving, it cannot develop more real, authentic relationships among its members, and it certainly cannot serve others without Christ as its center (although any other name may suffice – “weekend bread-eating club” for example). As Christ himself says in John 15:5:

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2010 8:29 pm

    Thanks for your immense points in the post, it has genuinely helped us!

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