Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training tool called Do You Lead a Life-Changing Small Group?
As small-group leaders, we definitely want to see bonds form between the people in our groups. In fact, we can feel like a proud parent when we see people talking and laughing and enjoying life together. The social aspect of a small group is both good and necessary, but there are still times when it feels like a necessary evil—especially when it comes to evaluation.
We need to be sure solid relationships are in place so that people can open up and share the real messiness in their lives. But usually the only opportunity we have to gauge relationships involves surface-level interactions. So how can we measure if those deeper connections are being made before they become necessary?
To help you evaluate your group's progress in forming rock-solid spiritual friendships, consider these biblical models of friendship and reflect on the questions that follow.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
David and Jonathan are perhaps the most famous "best buds" in the Bible. In fact, one translation says, "and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1b, NRSV). Can you imagine the energy you could harness for serving God's kingdom if your group members developed those kinds of relationships and then turned that love loose on the world?
And what about Ruth and Naomi? After the death of Naomi's son (Ruth's husband), Naomi wants to send her daughter-in-law back to her own people. But Ruth says to her: "Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!" (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT).
That's some kind of love!
Read through Ruth 1 and 1 Samuel 18-20, and then think about these models for loving friendships in the context of your group. Rate your response to the following questions, with 1 meaning "No," 3 meaning "Sometimes," and 5 meaning "Yes."
Do my group members appear to genuinely love one another in spite of human quirks and flaws—demonstrating patience, kindness, gentleness, and other fruits of the Spirit?
Do my group members offer support and encouragement to one another within the group setting?
Do my group members offer support and encouragement to one another outside the group setting?
Have I seen growth in my group members in terms of their willingness to get to know all members individually—asking about their family, their job, their interests, etc.?
Do my group members make an effort to include everyone in the group, even those who may be more quiet and reserved?
Where Two or Three Gather in My name
Mary, Jesus' mother, and her cousin Elizabeth had a deep, spiritual friendship based on their utmost trust in God. Just as women today seek out connections with other moms-to-be when they are pregnant, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who said upon her arrival, "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!" (Luke 1:45). The friends then spend the next three months together, no doubt continuing to praise God and encourage each other to faithfully follow his rather unexpected plans for their lives.
An unexpected friendship also deepened the faith of Elijah and his successor, Elisha. Having been plucked out of his family's field while plowing one day, Elisha probably wondered what God had gotten him into. Yet he faithfully followed Elijah as a prophet in training, and he was so encouraged by his mentor that he asked this of Elijah before his death: "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit" (2 Kings 2:9, NRSV). Talk about a spiritual friendship.
Go back and read through Luke 1:39-56, 1 Kings 19:19-21, and 2 Kings 2:1-15. Consider how your group members reflect the qualities of these spiritual friends. Again, rate your response to the following questions, with 1 meaning "No," 3 meaning "Sometimes," and 5 meaning "Yes."
Am I seeing any mentoring going on in my group—an experienced person taking a special interest and walking alongside someone less experienced?
Do any of these mentoring relationships spill over into life outside of our group?
Do group members trust each other enough to share God's Word with one another as they offer advice and encouragement?
Have I seen growth in the way members challenge one another to stay faithful to God in difficult circumstances?
Have I seen members encouraging one another to take on new leadership roles at church or in ways that will use their gifts to serve God?
Therefore, Prepare Your Minds for Action
Friendships that stimulate our brains to grow in the knowledge of God are also part of his plan for community. Think back to Paul and Timothy—how much encouragement Paul gave to his young friend to keep his thoughts focused on Jesus:
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior…. But God's truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: "The LORD knows those who are his," and "All who belong to the LORD must turn away from evil" (2 Timothy 2:15-16, 19, NLT).
Another of Paul's partners in ministry, Phillip, befriended an Ethiopian eunuch at God's direction. Phillip challenged this new believer to think deeply about God's Word. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Phillip asked the man (Acts 8:30, NLT). When he admitted he did not, Phillip walked him through the Book of Isaiah, line by line.
Do my group members come fully prepared for study and discussion?
Do my group members seem comfortable asking questions, both for clarification and deeper processing?
Do my group members ask each other questions, challenging one another to grow in their knowledge of God and one another?
Do my group members bring information to the discussion that shows they are reading and studying outside of group time?
Do my group members challenge me to prepare thoroughly and faithfully for each lesson?
—Rachel Gilmore is author of The Complete Leader's Guide to Christian Retreats and Church Programs and Celebrations for All Generations.
- What type(s) of friendships have I done well at fostering in my group?
- What type(s) of friendships do I need to work harder at developing within my group?
- What is one thing I can do to move my group over the hurdle and forward in our spiritual friendships with one another and God?