The earliest model of Small Groups at our young church was centered around three phrases: Know and be known. Love and be loved. Serve and be served. As our church grew, we leaned into that mantra to help people connect with God and with one another.
In 15 years, a lot has changed. As culture shifts and technological advances push us to adjust the way we connect and create community, our working model for Small Groups continued to evolve. But this one thing remains: A healthy community helps people to know and be known; love and be loved; serve and be served, as they connect with God and with one another.
As we prepare for a relaunching of our entire Small Group ministry this fall here in the Northern Hemisphere, we continue to find ways to gather people together to engage with Jesus and build relationships. We know that people everywhere still long to know and be known. Regardless of the topic, time frame or demographic, we have found one practice that never fails to help take that first step toward creating a safe and healthy space for community.
Often overlooked, sometimes disregarded, an intentional conversation starter can instantly change the atmosphere from a scattered group of assembled acquaintances to a circle of real relationships. Taking our cue from Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team workbook, we often lean into short personal history exercises as ice breakers.
Let’s go around the circle and share three things: Your name, where you grew up and where you fell in your family’s birth order.
It’s a relatively innocuous beginning, but one that allows people to crack the door open to their personal history (hence the name!), setting the stage for honest, authentic sharing. It also allows us to see a fuller picture of the man or woman in front of us—one that may include part of their childhood or more formative years.
One of the most powerful experiences of my life came during this exercise with a brand new woman’s group. We gathered to focus on Bible Study, with no pre-conceived plan of who would be in the group; it was open to all. At our first meeting—which was a bit large, with 18 women in attendance—we opened with the personal history ice-breaker. When the second woman shared, she was authentic and vulnerable in her honesty, as she referenced her birth order and the fact that she had cut off relationship with her brothers because of their abuse. A stillness fell over the group as we went around the circle. Over 75 percent of the women in the room shared that they, too, had been abused, as they shared their history. Several of those present said, “I’ve never told anyone before…”
As this group continued throughout the next several months, tremendous healing occurred. The ice-breaker cracked the door open for authenticity and raw vulnerability; the spirit of God moved quickly and powerfully through the lives of these women as they studied His word and built meaningful relationships with one another.
Not every ice-breaker will get to such deep, vulnerable places immediately—but they help set the stage to understand and appreciate men and women as the complex, multi-faceted individuals they are. Rick Warren writes, “God not only knows where you are, he knows who you are. He knows what you’re going through, why you’re going through it and how you feel about it. He knows you better than you know yourself. He cares about you personally.”
What better way to understand this truth than by demonstrating it—from the very beginning of our time together in group?
Other personal history ice-breaker ideas: What was your first paying job? What was your favorite family vacation? What did you dream of doing when you grew up?
This article originally appeared here.