Basic Strategies for Authentic Christian Community

Tips that can improve the atmosphere of new and veteran small groups
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Covenants should be revisited often. Evaluation allows opportunities to make changes in goals, expectations, and group process. As new people join a group, the covenant should be part of the joining process allowing the new member to understand and agree with what the current group has designed. When crisis or conflict occurs, tweaking the covenant might be in order.

Patterns are developed quickly in group life. Therefore, designing the covenant early helps to establish patterns that are healthy. Group leaders should consider topics of intentions, accountability, commitment, personal vulnerability, goals, mission, boundaries, expectations, hopes, and fears.

Active Listening

Calling attention to the skill of listening well helps create a more caring, thoughtful group dynamic. When the leader reviews what active listening really means, group members focus differently on what they are hearing from one another. Often when one person is sharing thoughts, other members are thinking about their response, critiquing what is being said, anxious to "top the story," or planning how to give the right advice.

Central to effective active listening is the leader's ability to lead and to facilitate discussion. Early in the stage of group life, questions or comments are directed to the group leader. Knowing how to redirect a conversation to include other group members is critical. Encourage group members to be thoughtful about responses, to focus on the person sharing, and to hold their thoughts until the appropriate time. This helps build an environment of care and authenticity. If members feel they are not being listened to or will always get advice, sharing becomes less truthful.

Suggest group members consider these questions as they actively listen:

  • Silent prayer: Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment.
  • What did you hear?
  • What did you feel while you were listening?
  • What might God be showing you through this person?
  • What might you want to say to this person concerning God's leading?
  • Is there something you want to speak back to this person for encouragement or for admonishment (when the time is right)?

Asking Appropriate Questions

Recognizing the stage of life development in a small group is important when thinking about the questions a leader might ask the group. Immediately asking a member about the shape of their soul in most cases will create an anxious environment! Often small-group guidebooks do not include personal sharing questions which are appropriate for the life cycle of the group. But leaders, by knowing their group, have powerful opportunities to ask questions that are safe and appropriate for personal disclosure; questions that will move the group along to higher accountability while maintaining a healthy environment for group vulnerability.

Construct questions yourself (or rephrase suggested questions) that require a personal response; the "so what?" of the particular Scripture study. If questions do not focus on "what will I do differently because I studied this Scripture?" the personal implication is lost and the group stays at a more clichéd sharing level. As the group matures in developing trust and authenticity, more challenging questions for personal disclosure become more comfortable and transforming.

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