Many writers have offered analogies for the stages of group formation, most choosing the individual human life cycle as a parallel. While this works adequately, it fails to capture and convey the relational emphasis so critical to small group life. The analogy I have chosen is one of courtship, marriage, and family development. Although not perfect, it does reflect the relational nature of groups, including the emotional content of many of the stages. The six stages and their lengths are as follows:
- Cupid: Matchmaking (before the first group meeting)
- Courtship: First Dates and Best Behavior (four-six weeks)
- Conflict and Congruence: Can I reveal the real me? (four-six weeks)
- Commitment: Engagement, Marriage, and Honeymoon (three-five weeks)
- Cohesion,Contribution, and Childbearing: Learning and Working Together, Adding New Family Members (Up to thirty weeks)
- Preparing to Release Adult Children: Children Leave to Start Their Own Families (the final six-eight weeks)
Groups, like dating relationships, can start spontaneously and coincidentally. But they are often best helped along by a Cupid, someone who can work with potential leaders and potential group members to find a good match. While the future leader is on the lookout for good prospects among friends and acquaintances, the Cupid (who may be a staff member or a ministry coach) can be more systematic in his or her search for a good match and can thus act as a catalyst for group formation.
The importance of advance preparation for a small group cannot be overemphasized. For those invited to attend, the first small group meeting is like a first date. The goal of the leader is to make the introduction to the group as little like a blind date as possible. Potential ...