We have all heard the expression “tip of the iceberg.” Icebergs form as the result of an accumulation of snow over hundreds of years. The bulk of the iceberg (about ⅞ of the mass) is below the surface of the water; only ⅛ of the iceberg is visible. Icebergs are white and blue in color: white when the snow is relatively new and blue when it has become very dense from years of compression. Those years of pressure slowly increase the density of the ice from loose and fluffy snow to extremely dense ice. Since it is compressed, the air trapped between the original snowflakes is forced out and the properties of the ice change. It now absorbs all the colors in the spectrum except blue, which it reflects. The oldest, most compressed parts of the iceberg appear to be blue in color.
A danger for small groups is that they may stay right at the tip of the iceberg. Members float comfortably on top of the water and never allow others to see the ⅞ of their life buried below the surface, let alone the dense blue ice compacted from years of pressure. In order to earn the right to go beneath the water’s surface, you must provide a safe and focused environment for genuine community to develop so that relationships can go deeper than surface level.
Promote Diving below the Surface
When it comes to connecting with others in authentic and honest ways, your group members will take their cues from you. If you remain on a superficial level, don’t expect them to go deeper. As you share your own weaknesses and struggles, you give members permission to do the same and you establish the expectation of authenticity and transparency. If you have had a bad week, don’t put on a false façade for the group; let them know about your week. Give them the chance to support and encourage you.
Instead of trying to fix them or give them answers, affirm members who open up about their struggles. Very often, people just want someone to listen. If they ask for advice, give it. But if they don’t, just be there to listen to them. When Lisa and I shared with the group the situation with Ethan, it was so overwhelming that we both broke down and cried. The last thing we needed was for someone to fix a situation that wasn’t fixable. What did the group do? They just huddled around us and gave us hugs in support. No surefire solutions to fix autism—just caring and being there for us.
Honor the Truth
Many people have no one in their life who loves them enough to tell them the truth. If someone in your group is making a choice that is detrimental to his or her health or faith (dating a married person, drug use, etc.), confront the individual lovingly. Instead of preaching at or looking down on that person, come alongside him or her and offer your support.
How does that happen in your group? In order to speak truth into someone’s life, you first need to build trust; otherwise, the person won’t listen to you. In order to build the trust, you need to spend time with him or her. Then once you have built that trust, you can speak that truth.
Importance of the After-Group Meeting
My group has our formal meetings on Tuesdays from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Very often, though, the best meeting happens after that. At 9:00 pm we pray, close, and almost everyone stays for the informal meeting. We start chatting, and before you know it another half hour or hour has passed. Recognize what is happening during these moments. Your members are reluctant to leave because they are enjoying the connections they are making. Topics that did not come up during the official meeting tend to crop up during these moments. “Hey, is your sister feeling any better?” “Did you guys decide what kind of car to buy?” “How do you like the new job?” While they may not have had an opening to ask such questions during the small group meeting, these questions are still important. They are evidence of true community. When I care about you, I not only want to know what is going on in your life, I expect frequent updates concerning ongoing events and issues that concern you. We call this the meeting after the meeting. Although this is not the formal meeting and no curriculum is used, this time is valuable for connection and sometimes is the most important time for the group.
The Other 166 Hours
Outside the formal time when your group meets (for us, two hours every Tuesday) there are another 166 hours a week that you can use to help community form faster and go deeper. This informal group time can include coffees, parties, seminars you attend together, going to your kids’ activities, serving as a group, going on a mission trip together, and so on. Think of ways you can use these informal times to help your group grow deeper. The same techniques you would use to build a friendship are also those that will build your group.
Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose: Everything You Need to Lead a Healthy Group (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 89–92.
We have just released a new Bible Study, Small Group Tune Up.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.