“Doing life together” has become a cliché to describe small groups and ministry teams. In their new book, From Couch to Community, Austin Maxheimer and Zach Below identify seven principles that may serve as a filter to determine if this is actually happening in the groups we lead.
Principle #1: Life together exists in real life. We are great at being faithful to our weekly meetings. However, those meetings exist as one tiny piece of our total life. Our group time together makes up 0.9% of our week. Obviously, that is less than 1% of our time. Do we really feel comfortable claiming that less than 1% is “Life Together”? On any percentage tracking scale, that is beyond failing. Encourage group members to spend time together outside of scheduled meetings.
Principle #2: Life together is celebratory. Our lives are filled with big highs and low lows. Do we share them together? People outside of the church know how to celebrate. They don’t have a weekly scheduled meeting with one another, so celebration has to be a natural part of life. If Dusty gets promoted on a Tuesday, we’re going out celebrating Tuesday night. This type of celebration is indicative of people living life together.
Principle #3: Life together has meat. People crave relationships that challenge and encourage them. The good news is—our groups are talking about things that matter. The bad news is—most of the time it only comes out of a formal forced time. If we are truly living life together then the “meat of life” will extend beyond our small group time and into our natural conversations. To get there we have to buy into the next principle.
Principle #4: Life together is intentional. The members of our groups will never magically reach the relational level of “life together” by sitting in a circle together once a week. We may reach a comfort level. We may possibly even develop an actual friendship; however, the claims of life together run much deeper. To reach that level we must intentionally invest in each others’ lives.
Principle #5: Life together takes commitment. The people in our groups are walking into a tough situation. Most of the time group members will not have a shared history. Many of the relationships forged will be brand new relationships, and it simply takes time to learn what people are all about. If we’re ever going to reach the goal of authentic life together, each member of our group will need to make a commitment to nurture the relationships within the group. Life together is a long term investment.
Principle #6: Life together is personal. Contrary to what “How I Met Your Mother,” “Big Bang Theory,” or most TV shows imply, you cannot do life together with a group. Life is shared with individual people. Collectively those people may operate as a group, but the depth is only fueled by the individual relationships within the group. The point is that we need to be intentional about developing relationships with one another, not with a group.
Principle #7: Life together shares mission. This is the cornerstone principle of life together. It’s not enough that our groups’ mission be to simply meet with each other once a week and talk. Meaningful mission binds people together. It gives purpose. Even more, it leads us to a deeper level of relationship and moves us one step closer to true “life together”. Nothing will bring your group closer together faster than collectively casting a vision and joining together in a shared mission.
[Editor’s Note: Excerpted from From Couch to Community: Activating the Potential of Small Groups by Austin Maxheimer and Zach Below. Group Publishing, 2014.]