Note: This article is excerpted from our Training Tool Effective Small Groups for Women.
"But it's easy to build community in the women's ministry; women are so relational."
That comment from a male colleague reflects a pervasive fallacy. While women may generally be more sensitive and verbal than men, many of us still struggle to develop relationships that foster true community.
Recently our church planned a weekend retreat, but many women didn't sign up because, we heard later, they didn't know who their roommates would be. Some of these women had been in the church for more than ten years. I've also had women threaten to leave an event simply because their one friend didn't show up.
Why do women, who seem so good at relationships, not feel at home in community? And how can we overcome those feelings in the church? Here's a look at some of the more pressing issues.
"She's Better than Me …"
A group of moms from our church were meeting for tea and conversation. As the afternoon waned, Cass began feeling more and more angry about her place in life. Raising two toddlers left her little free time. As she listened to Wendy talk about her new-found freedom now that her children were all in school, Cass grew frustrated. She didn't have time to read books. She couldn't remember the last time she had time away from her children. Cass confessed to me later that she had little desire to meet with the women again.
Women are tempted to compare season of life, children, husbands, hair styles, work, education, homes—you name it. And when we fall into this trap, we always come up short. We then tend to distance ourselves from those with whom we're comparing.
"I Don't Fit In Because …"
As a single woman, I often walk into a group where I am the only one without a mate or children. Whether I enjoy community depends in part on whether I give in to the thought that I am different, therefore I have nothing in common with these people, or whether I allow the Holy Spirit to fill me with his love so I can focus on others.
If we let discontentment rule, we will find something that sets us apart from any group.
"I Don't Know if I Can Trust You …"
Sue entered our small group with her guard high. Sue's painful relationship with her mother and with several female friends in the past had convinced her she could not trust other women. Her distant responses stifled the entire group. No one felt free to share beyond surface talk.
Most of us can recall a time our trust was broken. When we hold on to these hurts, we try to protect ourselves, and this fear creates distance.
"I Can't Help Competing …"
Linda and Jan participated in the same small group for several years. The group prayed weekly for the Lord to give them children. Linda was 32, and Jan was 40.
Recently Linda found out she was pregnant and couldn't wait to tell the group. But wanting to be sensitive, she told Jan first. Jan was genuinely happy for Linda, but over time she withdrew from the group. The group felt the tension immediately.
When we compete this way, we allow God's blessings of others to devastate us.
"I Can't Share Who I Really Am …"
Julie works hard in numerous areas of women's ministries. She appears to be in charge, a committed Christian. In her small group, however, Julie is more reserved. She requests prayer for others but never for herself. Many know what Julie does, but few know her heart.