Don't we all long to be part of something fun, exciting, and life-giving?
The sitcom Friends captured this desire. Every week, 50 million people watched six actors pretend to have relationships with one another. Its popularity was fueled by the deep longing we all have to be connected in community.
The felt need is clear. But the real need is found in the biblical word koinonia, which means "fellowship." God's plan from the beginning was that all of us would belong to a spiritual community where we would know others and be known.
How can we create a community like this? How can we connect with one another? Here are seven principles that form the acrostic CONNECT and help you connect in real friendships with the people in your group:
1. Create a "one another" community. In the New Testament there are more than 50 different references to "one another": love one another, bear one another's burdens, pray for one another, serve one another. This can't happen only on Sunday mornings; it needs to happen in other settings, like small groups.
Once you've invited your circle of friends and they show up, remember you don't have to be a Bible scholar to create a one another community. Your job is to ask the questions, look around the room, and wait for someone to respond. When someone voices a response, affirm them, no matter what they say. Don't feel like you have to answer every one of the questions yourself. It's like a ping-pong game: just get it started and keep the ball in play.
Another way to create a one another community is to schedule social events and meals together. Pull families together and get to know each other. Schedule casual gatherings, like a pizza dinner before the meeting starts. During this time, your group can check in on prayer requests.
2. Open your heart. Being authentic lets your group members know you don't have it all together—which means you're like them. When we communicate openness, it creates a safe environment for everybody else to be open as well. It's healthy to say, "You know, that's a good question. I don't know," or "I'm not sure." You are the role model, and they'll follow your example. When you're authentic, your group members will be authentic.
3. Naturally group members together for deeper discussion and prayer. It's important that every meeting permits discussion time. When your group gets larger than seven, it's more difficult for everyone to share. So break into discussion groups of three to four people. The more airtime an individual has, the greater the life application—and that's when you'll see lives transformed.
Also, this allows time for people to share prayer requests. You don't want to get halfway around the room during prayer request time and suddenly say, "Oops, we ran out of time." Break into smaller groups so you have time to share prayer requests and pray for one another. Remember: When people feel heard, they feel loved; when they feel loved, they return; and when they return, life transformation happens.
4. Never run from challenges, questions, or conflict in your group. The Bible says "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17). The group that doesn't have sparks actually doesn't have much life. Healthy groups have conflict.
There are practical things you can do, however, to ensure that conflict doesn't dominate your small group. First, make a group covenant. This agreement outlines the ground rules for your group. If you write down your expectations early on, conflict will occur less later on.
Second, facilitate discussion to help evaluate the progress of your group. After a few weeks, assess how things are going and just throw out the questions: "How's it going? What is one thing you like? What is one thing you'd change if you could?" You may have them write out their answers on paper to give to you. Issues that arise from these responses are ones to address immediately.
5. Encourage shared ownership. When this happens, the group moves from being "your" group to "our" group. Get out your group calendar and record where the group will meet, who will host, who will lead worship, and who will bring refreshments. If you have an apprentice, have him or her begin leading the icebreaker, prayer time, or part of the discussion early on. Rotate where you meet so that multiple people can host. This will develop ownership on a variety of levels.
Make sure that each group member has a responsibility. Some people may not be ready to lead worship or plan a ministry project, but everybody can take a responsibility by teaming up and doing something together. It could be planning a social event, following up on absent group members, or participating in a ministry project. Have them sign up and pair up. And don't forget to follow up. If you don't, few people will follow through on their responsibilities.
6. Cultivate a group of friends. The Bible says that early believers gathered in temple courts and house to house, week to week (Acts 2:46). This model ensured members would always connect with one another, even if they missed a meeting at the temple.
Because the early church embraced this model, they added to their numbers daily. Everyone wanted to be a part of the fellowship. Who are you going to add to your circle? If you invite friends to join the group, they'll be more willing to join in because they already have a relationship with you. Encourage group members to do the same.
7. Take time to do life together. Don't miss anniversaries, wedding parties, baby showers, job promotions, and even house closings. Celebrate one another's lives.
On my birthday, my small group made my favorite dinner and dessert. They asked how they could pray for me. Though the group isn't supposed to be about me, on my birthday they wanted the whole night to be about me. The beauty is that they loved on me and made me feel special. This met the longing in my heart for true friendship, and that's something we all long for.
—Brett Eastman is the founder of LifeTogether. Used with permission. All rights reserved.