The Surprising Secret to Authentic Community

I met the king of community last night. He was in my small group, just waiting to reveal himself at the right time.

I’ve seen him before. He’s popped his head in a few times to small group or to random conversations with friends. I’ve seen him at the gym, in the coffee shop and waiting in line at Wal-Mart.

It’s hard to plan for him, because he comes and goes as he pleases. The best thing you can do is to be ready for him, because when he shows up he could destroy a relationship. He could so distract you that you think he’s an annoyance, something you need to move past to get to something else that’s more important. In the moment, nobody really likes him.

The king of community’s name is not “food,” though that helps. His name is not “coffee,” though in my small group coffee is vital. His name is not “funny joke” or “comfortable couch” or “a great Bible study” or “common interests.”

His name is disruption.

He shows up in a number of different ways. He shows up often in small groups, but if you’re not ready for him, he’ll come and go unnoticed as the king. He’ll frustrate, distract and derail. In fact, when he shows up, he’ll make people want to leave.

But if you’re ready for him, he’ll build a stronger sense of community than you could ever imagine. Small group leader: be ready.

Unplanned disruption

Pain.

Sometimes this pain is caused outside of your group (losing a loved one, losing a job, etc.). Other times it’s a pain shared together by the group. Either way, pain and difficulty disrupt the “normal” and build community. Neither of these painful experiences can you plan, and neither of these painful experiences would you long for. But either can cause your relationship with that person to go really deep really quickly, knitting your stories together.

The prayer request.

Look out for this one, because it’ll sucker-punch you in a small group. You’re ready to shut the group down for the night when someone brings up the request, “Dave’s not here tonight because we decided to separate.” Or, “Every week I just sit here and listen, but I need to tell you I’m addicted to _____.” In these moments, slow down and let community happen.

The random question.

You’ll be tempted to dismiss this one as a distraction. And though it may be distracting you from the topic at hand, it can be a great community builder. These questions disarm people, giving them a chance to rally around their doubts, confusions and curiosities. Chances are good that one person’s curiosities will reveal another’s.

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Ben Reed
Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.