Small Group Breakthroughs, Part 5

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Trust Is Earned

Fifth in a 5-part series about building intimacy in your small group

Why do some small groups move through stages of commitment, honesty, and acceptance, building intimacy along the way – and others never get off the ground?

The key is desire. Without a willingness to grow, a small group can stay together for years but never get past shallow, superficial relationships. Yet when group members are willing to develop their personal trustworthiness and learn to trust each other, their relationships can become deep and profound.

small group sharing with each other


Like Mike, Allison, and Joelle (from our previous articles), Carl had built walls that kept him isolated from others in his group. His issue was trust. He lacked the ability to trust others and to be trusted.  But that was about to change.

People are Conditioned Not to Trust

“Don’t talk with strangers.” “Lock your doors at night”. “Avoid eye contact when you’re walking on the street.” “Don’t get into another’s personal space.” “Don’t talk with people on an elevator.”

Sound familiar? We’re conditioned not to trust others. In fact, we trust things more than people. And the trend is not confined to just a few of us.  A recent World Values Survey discovered that more than half of us believe people cannot be trusted.

Yet God wired us to go deep with each other.  Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12 says, “Two are better than one … a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” We are stronger together than we are separately. Especially when we build authentic bonds of trust.

What is trust?

Trust is confidence in another person’s character. It is double-faceted: 1. Trustworthiness is a personal trait you possess. 2. Trust is an action you take.

  • Trustworthiness is a quality you possess. If you are considered to be trustworthy, you demonstrate reliability and confidentiality.  You are transparent. You take personal responsibility for yourself, your emotions, and your spiritual journey. You earn this ability to be trusted by others over time, repeatedly demonstrating relational integrity. A trustworthy group member is mature enough to be entrusted with others’ deepest thoughts and experiences. Trustworthiness is a trait. It is a quality that describes what kind of person you are.
  • Trust is an action you take.  Over time you acquire confidence in another person’s character. Your desire to build a strong bond becomes greater than your fear of intimacy. You become willing to step out and actively trust another – someone who has been proven to be worthy of that confidence. Trust is a verb. It is an action you take.

Imagine a small group where fear drives every conversation. Very few share innermost thoughts, but rather float on the surface with “acceptable” comments. Now imagine a small group where fear is not present, but members trust each other enough to share candidly, knowing the group will respond with relational integrity.

Trust in a small group removes fear from the relationships. With fear gone, you can share who you really are, confident that others will act in your best interests. It is easy to see why trust is so valuable.

Become Trustworthy First

Trustworthiness, as a personal trait, is rare. It is tempting to demand trust from others as a first step. Our natural tendency is to focus on the question of trustworthiness in others and simply assume our own trustworthiness. This was the challenge Carl faced. Each week as he surveyed the individuals in his small group and mentally checked off reasons not to trust each one: “she cries too much” … “he is an attorney” … “she doesn’t know much about the Bible” …

A better approach is to first become a person who is trustworthy.  Carl made a decision to go this route. He chose to become reliable and transparent to others in his group. As Carl adopted this new attitude, he was gradually able to view each person from the point of his or her strengths. The member he once thought was overemotional he now valued as a person with deep sensitivity. The attorney’s analytical skills excited him as did the new Christian’s passion to learn about scripture. Soon, Carl began to voice his affirmation for group members’ strengths.  His conversation took on authenticity as he invested more effort in communicating clearly so that his thoughts are not misunderstood or mistaken. As Carl began to move away from judging others to valuing them, he earned their respect and trust.

Take the Step to Trust

Being trustworthy breeds trust in others and creates the environment for trust to grow. As Carl made the decision to become more trustworthy, he discovered a fascinating truth: he was willing to be more transparent and share some deep personal struggles with his group. In his moment of stark vulnerability, group members listened carefully to Carl. Carl realized, with a start, that members understood him: his strengths, weaknesses, and values – because he had cultivated his personal trustworthiness. Carl trusted them.

Do you want intimacy in your small group badly enough that you’re willing to grow? Cultivating commitment, honesty, acceptance, and trust is not easy. It requires an intentional focus on strengths, appreciating strengths in others, and learning to blend.

But the result is evidence of the power of God working among us … building strong, intimate cords rooted in Him. Cords that cannot be broken.

Hundreds of small groups have developed commitment, honesty, acceptance, and trust, leading to intimacy, described in Leading From Your Strengths: Building Intimacy in Your Small Group. Learn more.

More Small Group Breakthroughs

Small Group Breakthroughs, Part 1: The Biggest Small Group Barrier

Small Group Breakthroughs, Part 2: Commitment – Persistence With Purpose

Small Group Breakthroughs, Part 3: Honesty – Taking Off Your Mask

Small Group Breakthroughs, Part 4: Acceptance Celebrates Differences