Whether its in a Sunday School class that meets before the worship service in an on campus classroom or a community group that meets in a home one night a week, Christians have found meeting together regularly with other believers to be both a source of great joy and benefit. Many who have jumped into a group have stopped to ask me with a variety of wording, "How do I become a good small group member?" Or, "What should I expect of others in our small group?"
For those wrestling with this question, here are 5 Quick Thoughts.
1. Remember the Goal of the Group
Small Groups come in many different shapes and sizes with different practices; however, they share a common role in the life of the church. They offer individuals the arena in which the doctrines of the faith are lived out in real relationship with others.
God saves us into a family. He brings us into relationship with Himself and with each other. Small Groups put real people in close proximity to us. People we can forgive, love, serve, encourage, rebuke, correct, hold, and hear. In these relationships, the truths of the gospel go on display, and the lives of those we engage go on maturing from one degree of glory to another. The advice below aims at joy-filled fellowship that knows and enjoys the glory of God.
2. Put in Some Work Away from the Group
The best small group members are active outside of group meetings.
The group shares a common love for and joy in Christ. This distinguishes them from other clubs, groups, and fraternities. Being a part of your church’s small group ministry while failing to know, love, and enjoy Christ personally, would be akin to joining a soccer club with no interest or willingness to know, play, and participate in soccer. Your small group exists to know and enjoy the fellowship of God and His people. A good small group member makes knowing and enjoying Jesus his first priority.
Prepare for Meeting
Those activities we deem important and significant compel us to arrive prepared. Are you supposed to bring dessert to the meeting? Bring the best dessert you can. If the best you can do is store-bought cookies, then, with joy, bring them. But don’t make the convenience of the grocery store an excuse for your laziness. Are you supposed to discuss a passage of Scripture? Come prepared to discuss. Identify questions you can ask. Be ready to share your insights. Can you summarize the text? Are you supposed to come ready to share what God has taught you? Come with one or two items ready to be shared. Very few things of consequence happen without preparation. When you show up unprepared you serve neither your group nor yourself well.
Do you initiate contact with members of your small group outside of the regular meeting(s). Or, does your small group only see and hear from you once a week when the group is gathered? If the only time you interact with the group is at the meeting or in a group text about who will bring food to the next meeting, something has gone seriously wrong. Everyone desires a close intimate community with which they experience love and joy, but many of us make a huge mistake in thinking that this will occur by awkwardly sitting in a room with 15 other people for an hour each week. The joy-filled fellowship made possible by the gospel will cost you. It will cost you the time it takes to invest in the different individuals God has placed so close to you.
3. Be Intentional when With the Group
Make much of God
Whatever the setting, make a point to verbalize to testify to what God is doing, or what He has shown you about Himself. Our joy as believers is found in the glory of God. Our transformation occurs as we behold the glory of God. The purpose of our salvation is to declare the excellencies of God. If you have been in the scriptures, if you have been seated under the preaching of God’s Word, then you have heard God. He reveals himself through people and through creation. The whole earth is full of His glory. Surely there is something about God to which you can call the attention of others in the group. When you do, joy will increase, and transformation will progress in you and in the other members of your group.
Share the Bad Stuff
Did you and your spouse have a bad week? Did you lose your temper with the children? Did you go all week without seeking Jesus through prayer and Scripture reading? Are you feeling insecure? Are you feeling apathetic toward the things of God? What is going on in your head and heart that you are thankful everyone cannot see? While some things should be shared with only certain people, I have found that I and others tend to hide more than we should rather than share more than we should. When the conversation is about forgiving those who have hurt us, do not share that time you quickly forgave like Jesus. Instead, share how you are still struggling to forgive that person who sits on the other side of the auditorium. Confess the bitterness you still are asking God to root out of you. God is made much of in our weaknesses.
Most of the members of your small group will not assert themselves. However, they will usually respond to questions. This does not just apply to the “discussion” time, but from the time you arrive to the time you leave. Ask how their week has been. When they share something, learn to ask follow up questions that dig a little deeper. Rather than commenting or instructing on what they have said, take time to ask why questions.
4. At All Times, Don't Forget to...
Encourage Your Leader
Leading a group can be very discouraging. Paul says that discipleship is like child bearing. You should be like the one standing next to the one giving birth holding their hand and telling them they can make it! Let them know how you have benefited from their leadership. Tell them when you see something good in them. When issues arise be a part of the solution rather than let the leader carry it alone.
Members who are half hearted and less than fully committed are probably worse than those who never show up. Be present. Be on time. Offer to help. Place your small group near the top of your list of priorities and demonstrate its importance by being faithful.
Love the Difficult One
Every group has at least one. Usually, different people find different people difficult. There are many factors that make someone difficult to love. Maybe it's their unruly children. Maybe it's their personality. Maybe they think they are right every time. Maybe they feel everyone needs to know and agree with their opinion. Maybe they have nothing in common with you. Maybe they are simply odd. Maybe they have wounded you in the past. There are always reasons not to seek deeper relationship with those who are difficult to love. I encourage you, go after not the one(s) where deeper relationship outside the meeting is easy, but to go after the one(s) who present greater obstacles. In this Jesus is glorified. And without it, they may go unloved; after all, they are difficult to love.
Your small group is to be a taste of gospel joy and fellowship. The truthfulness of our gospel is demonstrated in its effects. Men and women are reconciled to God and each other. Where there would be hostility and division; unity, love and joy are known. When we invite others to join us, they will get to see this firsthand. An invitation to join you for small group is an invitation to witness the effects of the gospel we have proclaimed to them. This is powerful and persuasive. God is creating a community, a kingdom, and that kingdom is expanding outwards. The fellowship we have is meant to be shared. We are ministers of reconciliation. So, it only makes sense that we are constantly inviting others to share in it. To see it. To believe. And, to share in its riches.
5. Be Patient
People grow like plants. They require constant nurturing, and their progress only shows over time. These practices will help you invest wisely and faithfully, but do not expect overwhelming and immediate results. The prize - joy-filled loving community and the glory of God - will come to those who persevere in this over the long haul. Along the way there will be challenges, disappointments, and frustration. You will be tempted to give up and do as many do, simply show up to group meetings and hope to be served. I encourage you; God is faithful. Keep investing well, both within and without the group meetings, and God will give growth.