Lately I've been walking a 5km route through a residential area, which obviously has a lot of houses. As I walk, I take a good look around to find ideas for my garden and to see who is out on the porch.
As I was walking the other day, the thought occurred to me that each family in each house has a story to tell. How long have they lived there? Why would they pick that house of all of them on the street? Why don't they fix that fence piece, or paint the shutters, or tend to the yard work?
There is always a story.
Then I began to notice the people passing me on the sidewalk. What is their story? They have one, I know. Why does that woman walk several paces behind the man who appears to be her husband? What is that student facing at school or at home? What is the young couple talking about—are they happy?
Then it hit me—they could be wondering the same about me. What is my story? Why am I out at this time of the day, and where do I come from? What does the look on my face mean?
Stories in Small Groups
As leaders of community, it serves us well to remember that each member of our small group has a story to tell. For members, sharing stories can be a very intense and personal experience, and it's not something they often trust to others until they have earned our trust. So we need to realize that helping group members share their stories will take time in most cases.
But it is worth it.
As a leader, there is nothing like learning the stories of the people in your small group. And as group members, our story is something we truly do long to share with others. Of course, we only want to share our story with those who will not pronounce judgment or ridicule us in any way. That's why we guard our stories carefully from those who would hurt us if they knew it.
So how can you as a group leader create an environment for story-telling? Here are a few ideas:
- Use icebreakers that get people talking about parts of their story without even realizing it. For example, one icebreaker I've used asks about your favorite way to vacation. One guy shared that his favorite was in the woods with only a backpack and a canoe. Immediately, another couple began to share the adventures they had been on in the same way, creating a quick bond with the first guy and paving the way for more of their story to be told.
- You can lead the way by revealing parts of your story and journey on purpose. Make it a natural thing to do.
- When someone shares part of their story in the group, show interest and ask questions—you will surely find out even more about them than what they were telling.
- Ask the group to share five or ten highlights of their lives—events that happened at any point in time—and see where it goes. Allow group members to ask questions when there is genuine interest. Don't worry if the ensuing conversation strays from the original moment of revelation; it's all part of the various routes we take to discover each other.
- After a few months of growing in relationship and building trust in your group, you can suggest that each person take a turn sharing their story as part of a group session.
- Be direct about the benefits of finding out where we all come from and what the journey has held. One exercise includes group members drawing a simple map of their lives and then using that picture to share their story. For example, at what point was there a mountain to climb, a stream to rest by, or perhaps a plateau? This can appeal to those who have a creative side and need the visual to either properly express themselves, and for those who need to see something for better listening and understanding.
Have fun on the journey toward discovering the stories of those you live in community with. As for me, well, it's time for my walk!
Sheila Ely has been the Director of Small-Group Ministry at Bethany Community Church (Ontario, Canada) for eight years; she is now involved in group life consulting and enjoys writing about community.
—Sheila Ely; copyright 2008 by the author and Christianity Today.