We live in a world of independence. We want to do everything ourselves. People can order any item they wish online. Customers like to go through self check-out lines at stores to avoid conversation with an employee. We get our food "to go" instead of going inside the restaurant. And after a long day at work, we tend to relax by watching television or reading by ourselves. Some of us like to stay social by chatting with people online or sending text messages by phone. Even our nation's birth came from the concept of independence.
But one of the main outcomes of our independence is loneliness. And our country is packed full of lonely people. In fact, sociologists call our country "The Loneliest Nation on the Planet."
Jenny is a good example. She wakes up early and drives to her job alone. She sits in an isolated cubicle and talks to people on the phone all day. In her attempts to sell her company's product, she never makes a relational connection with her customers, and her business seems to prevent her from taking needed breaks and talking with fellow employees. She even eats her lunch in the confines of her cubicle. At the end of the day, she is exhausted. She gets in her car and buys dinner through a fast-food window. As she pulls into her driveway, she notices her neighbor smiling and waving at her. Jenny offers a nervous smile as she pulls into the garage, closing the door immediately. I'm too tired to talk to anybody right now, she thinks. Eating her dinner by herself, she watches television. Before going to sleep that evening she thinks, There must be something else that life has to offer.
We are surrounded by lonely people, like Jenny, who are afraid of relationships. They have been taught the lie of our culture that they must be independent—not relying on anybody for anything. But in reality, most lonely people are miserable.
As small-group leaders, we hold the cure to loneliness: community. By allowing God to use us, we can show people a different way to live: together. In Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …." God is a community in himself, and he created us to walk in community, too. By helping people find community in our small groups, we help break the chains of loneliness. And when those chains are gone, people are free to reflect the image of our Creator!
Understand Everyone Won't Be Best Friends
Still, we need to have a proper understanding of how relationships really work in small groups, and we need to avoid becoming bogged down by unrealistic expectations.
For example, Jim and Katherine ran into some fellow small-group leaders in a restaurant and decided to share a meal together. Jim and Katherine asked their friends how their group was doing. Immediately, their faces lit up as they talked about how well everyone was connecting. Close friendships were forming and their group even enjoyed spending time together outside of their regular gatherings. Throughout the rest of the meal, Jim and Katherine felt like they were failures as group leaders because their group was not as close as their friends' group.
In truth, Jim and Katherine held a false expectation in their minds. They believed that a connecting small group will always have people who are becoming the best of friends. This is a lie that can trap a leader in the chains of false expectations.
Every group has a unique personality because of the different personalities of the people involved. Some groups will connect more than others; they may even develop close friendships and do so quickly. Other groups will never reach this level of intimacy. But that doesn't mean the group failed to connect.