I know its been a LONG time since I posted for this series…. but school is on break so here we go!
Pattern 1: Connecting (Your Group)
When I was growing up I had two kinds of friends, the friends that were so close to me that we should pretty much be related and the friends that were only my friends because I was in the same class with them. It might just be me, but looking back at these relationship I can’t think of any significant moments that I shared with this second type of friend, whereas I could go on and on telling you stories of all the things I did with the first type of friend. We did all sorts of thing, from getting chased by security guards for skating on private property to getting chased by a homeless guy for waking him up (come to think of it…. We got chased a lot.) The point is that even when I was growing up I had two kinds of friends, the really close ones and the not so close ones. And its not that one kind of relationship was better than the other, they were just different. The same truth holds true for Lifegroups “We should think of connecting as a continuum with varying degrees of intensity. More intense isn’t better or worse than less intense experiences.”
Lets take a look at three phases that the typical Lifegroup will go through: Meet, Commit, Belong.
Phase 1 – Meet
Have you ever felt out of place? Have you ever entered into a room with absolutely nobody that you know? If you are an introvert like me, you know how much of a nightmare this can be. Now imagine going into a place where you feel like everybody knows the bible, everybody is super spiritual, and everybody knows one another. This is how many people who are joining a Lifegroup for the first time feel. However this anxious, first time feeling isn’t unique to the first day of Lifegroup, it can also be an extended period of time. A few weeks, months, or even quarters! It is during this period that the first phase happens: The Meet Phase.
During this phase most people treat the meeting as a meeting… surprise surprise! They don’t see it as a Lifegroup yet, its merely a meeting. Its an event they attend, but aren’t emotionally attached to. Yes they get together, they talk about the bible or the sermon, they know eachother’s names, maybe they even say hi to each other at church. If you have ever been in a group that stays in this phase you know it can be emotionally draining. It can become a lifesucking event rather than a lifegiving encounter.
How can you tell that you are in this phase? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are people coming to the group?
- Do they show up regularly?
- Do they participate in discussion?
Phase 2 – Commit
As your Lifegroup continues to meet over time they may begin to commit to one another, hence the commit phase. Depending on the people in your group, and even the leaders and apprentices, getting to this phase may take a few meetings to a few quarters. Regardless of how long it takes to get there, those in the Commit phase will begin to form closer relational ties to one another. They will begin to show interest in each other’s lives and they might begin to connect inside and out of group. Sure they might not be a family yet, but they genuinely are friends.
So how do you know that you are in this phase? If you can answer yes to any of the following questions you are likely in the commit phase:
- Do they hang around after Lifegroup?
- Are they sharing personal thoughts and opinions in the discussion?
- Are they showing an interest in each other?
- Do they know what is going on in each other’s lives?
- Do they communicate outside of Lifegroup?
Hopefully by know you are starting to see where your group lands on this continuum. Lets take a look at the last phase and then evaluate where we are at.
Phase 3 – Belong
First of all we must realize that not every group will reach the Belong phase. Although we desire it to happen, there are other factors that will result in groups usually staying in the commit phase. However, when your group members begin to feel like they belong to one another, when they begin to move from a friendship to a family like relationship you have reached the belong phase. When we are living out the reality of the Belong phase we are living out the reality of what Jesus meant for the church. Take a look at Matthew 8:19-21
19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
In this passage Jesus says that his true family consists of those who hear God’s word and put it into practice. In God’s Kingdom we are invited into a family that is marked, not by blood relationships, but by our relationship to God himself. As someone who follows God we can be certain that we are a part of his family. This reality is meant to extend into our Lifegroups, if we are living out our true identity as sons and daughters of God then we can really say that out brothers and sisters in our Lifegroup are family.
So how do you know if you are in the belong phase? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my group spend time together outside of group?
- Do they know one another’s life stories?
- Do they confess their struggles or sins in the group?
Evaluating Your Group
Next time we will be taking a look at how we can move up on the continuum of connecting phases. But for now I leave you with a couple of questions and some food for thought. First go ahead and Read Acts 2:42-47. How does this image impact your expectations for your Lifegroup? Is this a model to be followed or does it set some patterns that are generally true of all Christian gathering? Then ask yourself the following questions:
- How have you defined connecting in your group? What do you think a group that connects well would look like?
- What are the barriers the keep your group from connecting?
- Which of the three phases do you think your group is in?
I hope that these questions help you think through some of the issues your own group might be facing, and that you are led to pray for God to show up in your group to establish the community he intends it to be. I know I’m praying that for my own group and I’m praying that for yours as well.
(as always this material is based of Bill Search’s book Simple Smallgroups)