Growing Deeper as a Small Group
Talk show hosts and TV dramas have hijacked the word intimacy. When Oprah asks a couple, “When were you first intimate?” or Rome asks Tyrell (“A Million Little Things”) if he and Vali have been intimate, they’re talking about sex. And that’s too bad because intimacy is so much more.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines intimacy as close familiarity or friendship and lists the following synonyms: closeness, togetherness, affinity, rapport, and confidentiality.
Whether single or married, that list of synonyms should be the goal for your deep friendships and significant relationships, and sex will have nothing to do with it.
For this article, let’s focus on your small group at church. How do you move from talking about the weather to sharing your heart? More importantly, how do you develop relationships that matter and knit hearts together?
Each week, spotlight one or two people and have them respond to the “question of the night.” For example,
- Who are three people that have been instrumental in forming your faith?
- What three events or circumstances caused you to doubt your faith? What happened?
- Share two-three times you had to trust God. What happened?
- Be mindful that everyone might not be a Christian or might be new to the faith and won’t have a treasure trove of stories. Think about how to word the questions to include everyone. (You will fail at this from time to time. Apologize and learn from it.)
- If your group consists of married couples, ask a different pair each week to share how they met and a high or low from their engagement.
- Be aware of your time. If you make this an every-week segment, be sure people know the time constraints. Or you can set aside the curriculum for the night and allow more people to share.
You can be the best question-asker, but if you’re checking your phone or looking at other people in the room when the person is answering your question, you’ve just wasted your time. Stick with talking about the weather.
Listening well is a discipline that reflects your heart’s condition. (That stings a bit, doesn’t it?)
A good listener
- Leans is. Your body language matters. Tell yourself and your friend that you are all-in on what they have to say by facing the person and physically responding to what they share.
- Has good eye contact. Eye contact matters, but it’s not a staring contest. Please blink from time to time and even briefly look away. But then re-focus because your eyes communicate that you value what the person says.
- Verbalizes engagement. An occasional “Really?” “Wow!” “That’s amazing” communicates that you’re listening and you care.
Ask Timely, Appropriate Follow-up Questions
Don’t take over—you’re listening, not driving the conversation. So wait until the person finishes, and then ask a follow-up question to deepen the topic or increase your clarity.
Follow-up is a game-changer. If you want people in your group to know they have value and what they say matters, call or text them during the week. Or re-connect in person when you next meet. But begin with them. Pick up where they left off. Ask about what they shared or if their story continues.
BONUS: Add Water and Grow in Intimacy FAST, FAST, FAST!
Don’t buy the lie; relationships take time. You cannot speed them up, so don’t force the issue or evaluate the depth of a person’s story. (“Nice try, Charlie, but I’m giving you a 7 out of 10. Next time dig a little deeper. OK, who’s next?” Crickets….)
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While you can’t fast-track intimacy, you can create more opportunities for authentic engagement with the following ideas:
- Break into smaller groups—better yet, same-gender groups. While there’s value in everyone hearing another’s story, occasionally, introduce a question of the night that breaks your group of 8-12 into three groups of 3-4. This change allows more people to share in a less threatening environment.
- Serve together—What’s a project you can do to serve someone outside your church? Is there a family in your neighborhood or a colleague at work that can use an extra 8-10 people for two hours?
- Play together—Game nights break the ice and provide memory makers and opportunities for apologies. (You learn much about one another as that timer runs out.)
- Get away together—The ultimate way to build community and get to know one another better is to get away. Call it a mini-retreat or a day away, but go somewhere that forces you to ignore your phone and focus on one another.
The goal of a small group is to be a place where you can love God and love people. Some benefits of doing so are that you will grow spiritually, grow relationally, and have fun because life change happens best in a community, particularly one filled with intimacy. Take that, Oprah!
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What other elements have helped you grow intimate friendships?