Oh, did you think you were the only one that has an awkward small group? A small group that dutifully meets together very regularly, but still feels like strangers? A small group that looks like a motley crew of completely different backgrounds, interests, maturity levels, or availability?
Well, rest assured, you are not the only one who is experiencing this. Sometimes small groups just “click,” and that’s great. But for the groups that don’t click, there is so much hope. It isn’t because you’re doing anything wrong if your group is like this–in fact, it is very within God’s character to make the most beautiful relationships come from the most unlikely circumstances!
Take the Tower of Babel, for instance (Genesis 11). God didn’t confuse all the people’s languages so that they couldn’t build the tower that they wanted to. God confused their language so that they could build the tower the right way–by seeing one another’s very different perspectives!
So, if your group feels stale, shallow, or just plain awkward, try these 4 practicals to pump lots of love and patience into your group, and see what God can do!
1. Embrace the Awkwardness
You know that within the church body, we’re supposed to be as close as family. So it can be tempting to grin and pretend like your group feels super close, or to feel embarrassed that it doesn’t.
But there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Relationships are hard and they take time. So instead of faking family or giving up altogether–just embrace where you are!
Take a look at your group and ask yourself, if they didn’t have God in common, would any of you naturally be friends? If the answer is no–what a glorifying situation for God to move in.
That answer can also validate why it has been so tough to connect. So embrace that “no.” Give God the time and the room to forge lifelong friendships out of your current awkward silences.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. What I’m saying is, acknowledge the awkwardness so you can move forward authentically and without shame. And then celebrate the awkwardness, because God is about to get so much glory!
2. Plan Fun Times as Well as Spiritual Times
One frustration for many small groups is that it feels like people just won’t open up. You want to be the vulnerable, open, loving community that God calls you to. But there’s awkward silence whenever there’s an open-ended question about Scripture or when you call for prayer requests.
Although it seems counterintuitive for a small group to have times together that aren’t focused on spiritual things, they may be just what your group needs in order to feel like they really know the people they’re with, and therefore open up!
Some people need deep talks to be able to loosen up and have fun. But some people need to have fun before they trust people enough to be deep. So, planning spiritual times and fun times can help your group tremendously.
Plus, this gives your group a chance to find common ground and love up on individual people. Even if someone’s interest feels totally awkward at first, it will become so fun if the group commits to it.
Does someone in your group really love obscure anime films that no one has else has ever heard of? Instead of shunning this person’s interest, explore it as a group. You’ll all have fun and bond over doing something new, and the person whose favorite movie it is will feel so special that their interests were paid attention and honored.
Is there a person in your group who is really athletic, but the rest of the group isn’t? Plan a low-stress volleyball game or a bowling night. You’ll start to see where your venn diagram of interests overlaps, the more new things you try.
Take advantage, of course, when these times do provide you with the opportunity to share something you’re learning from the Bible or a prayer request you have. But let your group blow off some steam and bond together as full people, just like you would your family!
3. Initiate, Initiate, Initiate
Ah, what a wonderful world it would be if every relationship you were in met you 50/50. Or, even better, everyone reached out to you! But unfortunately, that’s just not how the real world works.
People are busy. People are worried about their families, their finances, their dogs. As much as they might love to know you, they will never get a chance to unless you reach out. That’s just reality.
So, don’t take it personally if no one in your small group is reaching out to spend time with you or get to know you as a person. Chances are, they really would like to, but week after week gets away from them. So pick up the phone!
And do it again. And again. And again.
Relationships take a lot of time and a lot of effort. This is a beautiful thing, because it’s how God loves us, without expecting anything back. So, as much as you can tolerate it while still taking care of yourself and getting your relational needs met elsewhere, reach out without expecting anything in return.
If you know someone prefers to hang out one-on-one, ask them to meet you at their favorite coffee shop. If you know someone who likes bigger groups, plan a game night. Be like Jesus and meet people where they’re at. (And if you don’t know what people’s preferences are, just ask! That alone goes a long way).
4. Commit to the Long Haul
If you’re like me, you’re very tempted to want results right away. I’ll have one good conversation with someone, and then am frustrated when we’re not best friends. When this happens, I need to remember that good things take time.
Relationships are one of the things that God has created that take a lot of time to grow. You don’t plant a seed and expect to eat a meal from it the next day. You don’t put $100 in a savings account and expect to be a millionaire by that night. Good. Things. Take. Time.
To help you tolerate this, think of something really big that God has done in your life that took a lot of time. It could be all the sleepless nights you endured in order to get your degree. Or the number of diapers you had to change before your toddler was finally potty trained. Or all the phone calls you had to make before your girlfriend finally moved to your town to be with you.
The process feels excruciating, but the reward is wonderful. Relationships, especially for groups that don’t naturally have a lot in common, are the same way.
Resist the temptation to compare where you are now to where you were a week ago. Instead, think 6 months back, or a year ago! Are people at least smiling when they see each other, instead of shrugging? Is there at least a little bit of easy-going small talk that happens before the passage you’re discussing gets read?
Soak in those little victories and feel confident that God is not done with your group yet.
You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re not less spiritual or less worthy. You’re just a group of humans that needs lots of time, love, and patience, just like everyone else.
So, try to enjoy the process as you embrace the awkward. It’s about to get really good.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AndreyPopov
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.