When you think about meeting one another’s needs in a small group what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, I think about providing a meal or praying for someone. Something physical. Something small. And those two examples tend to reflect the “needs” expressed by people in the typical group. No doubt, those are good things, but I’m convinced that God is calling us to a deeper level of community, a deeper degree of trust and acceptance, a deeper sharing. Only then will people be real about where they are and what they really need.
Here are five steps you can take to increase sharing and meeting needs in a small group. I totally get these five things may seem super obvious. But I’ve found that it tends to be the skills in plain view that need the most repeating.
1. Talk About It
If you want to experience the kind of relationships where people feel the freedom to share needs and struggles, then you have to talk about it. Set the expectation. Make it known to the group that you want to grow into the kind of place where you’re loving one another and meeting needs and walking through struggles. Lay out the ground rule that one of the top values of your group is that it’s a safe place to be your true self. Be sure the group knows that this kind of a community is an unfolding that takes place over time. You can even suggest that together, you evaluate every four months or so how you’re doing in this area.
As a group, read passages such as Acts 2:42-46 and 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Discuss what the writers had in mind. Interact with these kinds of questions: How do these verses on community compare with our typical interactions in the world of church and small groups. How can we align our experience and actions with Scripture? What will it take?
2. Be Real
Most people are hiding. It’s true. I frequently find myself moving toward a place to hide. I have to resist inauthenticity in my life and fight for vulnerability and authenticity. They don’t seem to come naturally. We generally want to project a self-image that we wish was true or that other people expect of us. This is a big-time hindrance to transformation. Your false self isn’t real and can’t be transformed. If you are going to grow into a group where needs and struggles are shared, it’s absolutely vital that you value authenticity and vulnerability as a group. Agree to it. Go after it. Live it.
3. Go First
You gotta go first. I know that stinks, but you set the tone. You have to demonstrate and model healthy authenticity. It’s up to you to show your friends that it’s okay to have needs and struggles, and that your relationships, your group, is a place to be honest about them. If you’re too self-conscious or proud to admit you need help, of any kind, why would you expect your group to share with you, or anyone else?
4. Embrace the Correct Perspective
Think bigger and broader than physical needs. If you stop at cutting each other’s grass when gone on vacation or a meal when the baby is born you are missing out on so many opportunities. Listen. Accept. Engage. Challenge. Affirm. Love. Give grace. All of these actions are needs that people live with. They are all needs. Meet them. Together.
5. Stop Giving Advice
Every group should have this ground rule: Don’t give advice unless asked. Don’t. Do. It. It’s the quickest way to extinguish the emerging flame of vulnerability. If I share a need or struggle and someone goes into judgement or advice-giving mode, I’m out. I’m not going to stick around, physically or mentally. Ask permission. Ask for clarity for that matter: Would you like our advice, John, or would you just like us to listen? Many times people just need to hear themselves talk about what’s going on in their lives. You always have the option of following up later. Go to breakfast, grab a coffee and listen some more. Before long, you’ll find that if you’re someone worth listening to, you’ll be listened to.
So what now? Make it happen. Move in the direction of meeting needs by taking action.
Adam Workman is the pastor of discipleship and assimilation and oversees discipleship strategy, group life and volunteer ministry at Sandals Church in Riverside, Calif. Adam leads and helps people connect to what matters most in life — God and people. Adam and his wife Melody have two children.