Groups connect. That is, they bring people together on a personal and heart-based level. Connection is the basis of any good work in a group. For a few minutes every week or so, members receive the experience of being attached, loved, and in relationship with like-minded people. Connection, far more than the information dispensed, keeps people coming to group. When people feel attached, they become much more invested in the process, and their hearts become more open to God, growth, and each other. As Paul entreated his friends, “As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:13). There are several ways that connection takes place.
Connection Elements in the Group
Each group takes on the responsibility of being a place where connection can be created and flourish. This includes elements such as safety, nonjudgmentalism, honesty, and a process orientation. The group talks about these elements and invites members to say whether they are experiencing sufficient amounts of these elements. For example, someone might say, “Does anyone have a concern about how safe the group is, so that you can open up with whatever is going on?” Someone else might respond, “I’d like to talk about things going on with me, but last week it seemed that when someone mentioned a failure in their life, everyone jumped all over her. That pretty much shut me down.” A good group constantly makes sure that what is needed for connection is present.
Group Materials Build Connection
If the group is a study group with organized materials, such as on spiritual growth, marriage, or relationships, the members interact with the study in terms of their hearts and attachments to each other. For example, one person may say, “After we went over the section about being vulnerable in life, I realized I’m avoiding that here in the group.”
Discussion Content Is Connection-Oriented
The content of a group is what people bring up to talk about. In connecting groups, the content can be personal, emotional, or struggle based. It is sometimes risky. It is more than principles and information, though that can be a part. Basically, people are opening up their hearts and lives to each other, and connections are being built.
In a good group you will notice that the discussion content is generally not what would be talked about in a conference, which is more learning and information, nor what would be in an informal gathering of friends, which is more catching up on the events of life. It has more to do with private, personal, and transcendent themes, which few people regularly bring out into the light of day. When the members leave the group meeting, they know they have connected in a way that the rest of life doesn’t provide for them.
Group Members Expect to Discuss Their Relationships
Groups actively talk about their relationships within the group. It is normal to discuss opening up, trusting someone, and the particular relationships with one another. Sometimes there’s a flow between a growth topic and the relationships, but the group never neglects the connections. Even when good groups are discussing a most interesting subject, they notice and address if someone is hurting and detached. When I (John) have led groups that had a lot of tension between people, I have often stopped the discussion and said, “There’s something going on in between a couple of people here. Let’s talk about it.”
Conversely, a common sign of a group’s getting out of balance is discussion weighted toward people who aren’t in the room, such as troubles members are having with a spouse, child, friend, or date. While this is certainly important information, over time it does not create the life change that talking to each other about our experience of each other brings. Good groups spend significant time helping the members open up themselves to each other, giving validation, love, comfort, feedback, and confrontation.
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2010). Making small groups work: what every small group leader needs to know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.