Small Group Breakthroughs Part 1:
The Biggest Small Group Barrier — and How to Get Over It
First in a 5-part series about building intimacy in your small group
Can lost, lonely, isolated people get beyond hurt and enter into trusting, honest, healthy, loving relationships?
Mike has no siblings and is single. Loneliness is nothing new to him; people have come and gone throughout his life. Mike is not sure he can ever be connected to another person, let alone a group, with a sense of commitment.
Allison is outgoing and vivacious but she is isolated, too – in a different way. Her carefree attitude is a mask. Allison has been rejected so many times that she now struggles with being honest. Joelle, on the other hand, prides herself in good choices. Yet she rarely develops close relationships because others see her as self-righteous rather than accepting. Then there is Carl. He listens easily to others, but often holds back from sharing his own story. Can Carl ever find people he can trust?
Mike, Allison, Joelle, and Carl represent today’s growing epidemic of isolation. In spite of the explosion in social networking, the average American claims to have just two close friends – and just 15% say they have a healthy circle of four or five friends, according to the American Sociological Review. Meanwhile, 3 out of 4 people report they have no one to talk to about personal troubles. That’s a whole lot of lonely, isolated people.
God Wants Intimacy for You and Your Small Group
That sense of isolation is a large reason the small group movement has taken hold in churches. These regular gatherings of 8-16 people meet together for sharing, accountability, Bible study, and prayer.
The rationale for small groups is biblical (the disciples formed a small group of 12, led by Jesus) – and compelling. Jesus begged God to give us intimate relationships with one another. “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21, NIV). Jesus experienced oneness with God. It’s that same kind of trust and understanding He desires with us – and among us – because it reflects God’s character.
Walls Get In the Way
Yet while intimate relationships are one of God’s richest treasures, barriers can stand in the way: life’s pace, busy-ness, distractions, activities, personal baggage – not to mention the overarching sense that human nature is distrustful.
But by far the greatest hindrance to building strong, close relationships with others in a small group are the personal walls we erect. Rather than truly getting to know others, it’s much easier to project a mask, façade, or false front. Many people are not even aware that they’ve set up walls to keep others out. We erect walls out of our weaknesses, not out of our strengths.
Why we build walls. Fear, past experiences, and uncertainty – they’re just a few factors we use to justify building walls that prevent others from knowing our true selves. Erecting a wall is a way to avoid potential rejection. Both Mike and Allison erected walls. Mike feared intimacy was not possible, though he longed for it. Allison mistakenly believed she was not valued and found ways to compensate.
Why we keep walls in place. Rather than investing in knowing what we can bring to the group, we expend energy maintaining a façade. Joelle cultivated her self-image of perfectionism, exhausting herself in the process and isolating her from others. Carl kept others out because he was afraid he could not trust them with his story.
The Shift of Focus: from Weaknesses to Strengths
Like so many in small groups (and relationships of all kinds), Mike, Allison, Joelle and Carl mistakenly operated from their weaknesses. Yet they were about to experience an overwhelming shift.
This series of articles explains what happened to these four people when they discovered their strengths and focused on using those strengths in their small group. Mike, Allison, Joelle and Carl were able to build deep, intimate relationships rooted in commitment, honesty, acceptance, and trust. That kind of intimacy is an incredible testament to the power of God working among us: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11, NIV).
Intimacy was possible for Mike, Allison, Joelle, and Carl … when they learned to share from their strengths. And it is possible for your small group, too.