Cultivating A Caring Atmosphere In Your Group

A critical factor in establishing a motivational small group climate is caring.

My wife and I were in our mid-20s when we joined our first small group Bible study. We became fast friends with others in the group. When one of us had a problem or faced a challenge, we knew we could count on the others. When we moved out of state a year later, I wept because of the bond that would be broken.

A critical factor in establishing a motivational small group climate is caring. When leaders show genuine interest in people, and when members of a group put a premium on relationships, Bible discussions receive a boost. Participants are more likely to answer and to ask questions during a Bible study when they know others in the room accept and care about them.

The interpersonal dimension was paramount to the apostle Paul. While reminiscing about his church-planting ministry among the Thessalonians, he wrote, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Here are ways to facilitate a caring environment:

  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to create a strong bond among group members. Cultivating close fellowship is a spiritual endeavor, not solely the result of human effort.

  • Ask the Lord to give you love for each person in the group, especially those whose temperaments or idiosyncrasies tend to get on your nerves. Then ask Him to show you concrete ways to express that love. One strategy is to pray regularly for them. God often changes our attitude toward people when we intercede for them. And let them know you're praying for them.

  • Be the first to arrive at the meeting site and greet people as they enter. Ask them questions about their week or follow-up on something they said in the previous session. I'm an introverted, task-oriented person, but I still shower people with attention when they enter the room. I force myself to do it even when I don't feel like it, because it sets a positive tone for the session. I'm not being hypocritical. I'm just not allowing my fluctuating emotions to control me.

  • Be sure you or someone in the group calls anyone who misses a session. Don't harass them for not attending. Just let them know they were missed.

  • Send handwritten notes in the mail to encourage participants. Salute someone who exhibits enthusiasm for learning or has a big appetite for God's Word. Thank a group member whose transparency took a lot of courage. Express gratitude to someone who comforted a hurting group member. In 25 Ways To Win With People, John Maxwell says that one reason handwritten notes are so powerful is that they are so rare. He adds, "When a note of encouragement is written down, it is perceived to be more genuine than when it is spoken."

  • Plan and implement a Bible study on authentic fellowship. Examine these passages: Gal. 6:2; 1 Thess. 5:11; Col. 3:16; 2 Cor. 1:3-6; Eph. 4:2,32; 6:18-19; Rom. 12:10,13,15; 15:7; and 1 Peter 4:10. Discuss: What expressions of fellowship can we glean from these verses? Who can share a time when you've been on the receiving end of one of these forms of fellowship? What are some hindrances to experiencing fellowship of this sort? How can we demonstrate these forms of fellowship within our group?

  • When you form a new group, don't delve into Bible content right off the bat. Employ get-acquainted or team-building activities to increase folks' comfort level with each other. Here are a couple ideas that work well for me:


Item From Wallet or Purse—Ask group members to select one item from their wallet or purse that they can use to introduce themselves or disclose personal information: a photo, a receipt, a business card, etc. Give everyone a couple minutes to display and explain the item. Encourage others to react by asking probing questions that elicit even more information.

"ing" Words—Ask everyone to think of three —"ing" words that disclose personal information. (A chef might think of "cooking." An insurance agent might opt for "selling." A new member of Weight Watchers might choose "dieting.") Have every member of your small group share these words with the others and explain the personal information represented in each.

Encourage intercession for one another during group meetings. Near the end of sessions, ask: What personal needs has the Holy Spirit exposed during this study? How can we pray with you about those needs? Also facilitate intercession by distributing a list of all group members' email addresses. Encourage everyone to email all the others whenever they become aware of a group member's illness or special need. This way they can start praying before the next gathering of the group.

Which of these tips for creating a warm, hospitable atmosphere can you implement immediately?

Adapted from "Now That's A Good Question!" by Terry Powell, Standard Publishing Small Group Help Guid

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