Note: This is a great handout for new group members so they know what to expect.
If you've been encouraged to join a small group, you've probably heard a list of things you can expect to experience. Small-group directors and pastors might sell small groups by saying that you'll make life-long friends, that every meeting will leave you feeling happy about life, and that small groups are the cure-all for all that ails you. But to be honest, we're often guilty of overpromising. Here are some realistic expectations for small groups:
Expect to know you're not alone. When you spend time with other people you're able to see their finer points. You're also able to see their flaws. As my favorite book title declares: Everybody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them. But, it's good to know we're not alone in our flaws. Only Jesus is perfect, and it's unfair to expect perfection from anyone else—or yourself. While thinking about our flaws might be depressing, there's good news: Once we see each other as we truly are, in need of someone to redeem and save us, we can move closer to one another in life-changing community.
Expect to find other people who are also new to the small-group experience. When you try something new, you're worried about what to expect: the dress code, the depth of study, the group dynamics. People who have been part of groups for a while forget how nerve-racking it can be. But remember that you're not the only person who's new to small groups. Others will have the same questions. So relax, open up, ask questions, and just be yourself.
Expect to begin some new relationships. During your time together, there's a good chance you'll have the opportunity to begin new relationships. At the same time, meeting for only a few weeks doesn't usually translate into a life-long friendship simply because you've met. To build those relationships, get together outside the group meetings. Some intentionality goes a long way in developing meaningful relationships.
Expect that trust will deepen over time. As you meet with your group, you'll develop trust over time. As your trust deepens, your discussions can go deeper as well. Don't expect to jump into the deep end at the first meeting. It's simply a natural part of forming relationships. But don't be content with simply answering basic questions or staying at surface-level sharing. Take a risk and share a little more each time you're together.
Expect to learn something new. Unless a small group is grounded with a biblical foundation, it's no different than a club or social group. A small group should always point you toward Scripture. As you study God's Word and apply it, you'll learn more about God and one another. Studying Scripture in a small group may not make you the next great theologian, but studying Scripture is "useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us" (2 Timothy 3:16, MSG). Expect not only to learn something new, but also to discover your next steps for growth.
Expect to have an opportunity to use your spiritual gifts. As you get to know others better, you'll begin to understand their needs, and this gives you an opportunity to use your spiritual gifts to serve them. For instance, you might provide refreshments or record prayer requests. Or you might help a group member with a do-it-yourself project, or simply listen to someone going through crisis. As a member of the group, you simply need to listen for needs and take initiative to use your gifts to meet them.
Expect to get back what you put into your group. This is true for just about everything in life and it's true of your time in a small group. Make the most of your time together by sharing in a transparent way. Come to meetings prepared, having read the study passage, and you'll have more to offer to the discussion. You'll probably take away more as well. If you attend regularly, you'll develop deeper trust and relationships. Scripture talks about getting back what you put in when it says, "What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvest a crop of real life, eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8, MSG).
Your small group should be fun and help you move forward in spiritual growth. If your first experience with a small group isn't a good one, don't give up. God created us to live together in life-giving community. But living together in community takes work. Biblical community doesn't just happen when a small group is formed. It takes transparency, commitment, and openness to God's leading for a group to really come together. Come expecting to grow, to learn, and to invest in others in your group.
—Mark Ingmire is the Small Groups and Adult Education Pastor at Savannah Christian Church in Savannah, Georgia; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.