The first pattern of a healthy group is the relational pattern, or connecting with one another. This is the relational bridge that you build with other people in your group. As a matter of fact, if you don't get to the connecting pattern, you’re not going to get to the other patterns of helping people change to be like Jesus, or helping people cultivate a heart for others, because people won't come back to your group. What keeps them coming back is the relational pattern. The relational pattern of connecting to one another if of utmost importance.
Now there’s a handful of things you can do during the group time to encourage this. Let me give you a couple ideas:
Ice breakers are simply get-to-know-you questions that are light hearted. They can also be thought provoking and you tend to reveal more of who you are through those questions. Whether they're humorous or serious, they put everyone at ease.
There is nothing like good food to help build a relational pattern in a group. Anything from a brownie and cup of coffee to a full meal. Food is a wonderful way to get to know each other while making things feel comfortable and casual.
Your group doesn't always have to meet at the same place. As a matter of fact, there's a great advantage to sharing the hosting responsibility. It that allows you to do is see how people live and what they’re into. Maybe there's a wall of trophies for bowling and you realize, "Wow, they're championship bowlers. They love to bowl." Or maybe there's a wall of photographs of the grandkids and you realize that grandkids are really important to this couple. It could be pictures of vacation spots or souvenirs of special places. All these things can help you understand the host and what does that do? It helps you understand somebody else in your group and that's a good thing. That helps you connect with each other.
Give everybody a job in the group.
Everybody can have some role or responsibility. It gives them a sense of ownership to the group. It helps them feel more bonded to the group. Everything from coordinating refreshments to coordinating the prayer list or coordinating the Facebook page or an email distribution list. All of those are little jobs and little jobs mean involvement. Involvement for a lot of people makes them feel more emotionally attached to the group.
Spend time sharing short autobiographies.
Set aside a little group time each meeting to allow people to share stories or snapshots from the time they were born to today. What has their life been like? What are the high points? They only have a short amount of time so they can only share certain key, pivotal moments. For the really creative people they might turn it into a slideshow or bring photographs or make art projects that demonstrate that these are the highlights of my life. Or maybe they'll bring in souvenirs from those moments.
But in the process of hearing their story, what you're doing is you're connecting with them. They are becoming more of a real person to you and you are furthering the connecting pattern of your group.
*This is the eleventh post in a series of 27 Tips for Small Group Leaders
BILL SEARCH is the author of Simple Small Groups. He has served in ministry for nearly 20 years. Bill loves spending time with his family, drinking great coffee, listening to jazz, and enjoying the great outdoors.