When we want our small groups to thrive, unity within the group is essential. If our small group members are aloof, combative, or indifferent, realizing growth will be hard. But what can you do as a small group leader to promote unity? Here’s my advice, based on my own experience as a youth small group leader.
Spend time together
The most important factor in creating unity in your small group is that the small group members get to know each other. That means spending time together. But just spending time in small group sessions won’t do the trick because this is mostly spent being rather inactive (listening, answering the occasional question, etc.). You’ll need to do stuff together, hang out together.
We have very fond memories of a small group we had for two years. It became a close-knit group, so close in fact that seven years and an international move later, we’re still in contact with most of them. Our ‘secret’? Having dinner together before every small group session and every youth service. We ended up eating together in our home almost every week for the first year. It was always a fun time, where everyone was catching up, sharing their stories and experiences. When the ‘real’ small group session started, everyone was ready to focus on God and to be open and honest.
Be clear about the ‘rules’
It helps if the rules of your small group are crystal clear from the get-go. Listening to each other without interrupting, respecting each other’s opinions, passing no judgment on each other, these are all essential elements in building an atmosphere of trust. We’ve had small groups where there were both ‘radical’ youth and those who hadn’t made up their mind yet, but they respected and accepted each other. Make the rules clear for everyone and address issues when necessary.
Pair up occasionally
A good way of avoiding cliques within a small group is to have your small group members do ‘assignments’ with each other every now and then. We used a lot of assignments in pairs or three’s and tried to put different people together each time. Not only will it make your small group more varied (not to mention it will appeal to small group members with various learning styles), it will also help them to get to know each other better. Because when they know what makes the other person tick, when they make the effort to see where someone else is coming from, accepting each other suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.
Be open yourself
If you want your small group members to share, you’ll have to set the example. I’ve had small group members once who were really great, nice and loving people. The only problem was that they were very closed off and hardly shared anything about their own life, their challenges, and problems. The result was a small group that had a real problem in being open. Show your youth small group members what it means to live a transparent life; share openly so you’ll encourage them to do the same.
Keep doing icebreaker games
Often, we only do these ‘get to know each other games’ at the beginning of a small group season, but it really pays off to keep doing them every now and then. I remember a game we once did in which everyone had to write down some random fact about himself or herself nobody knew. We then had to guess which fact corresponded with which person. It was not only fun, but it led to everyone sharing some personal stories, and we really grew closer that night.
Meet in someone’s home
It may sound like a completely random thing, but we’ve found that small groups who met in a home were closer than small groups who met in a church building or a more or less ‘formal’ atmosphere. The homey atmosphere of someone’s house leads to associations of family, togetherness, having a good time. So whenever possible, I advise you to meet in someone’s home rather than a youth room or church building.
These are some practices that I have found to be effective for creating unity in our youth small groups. Do you have any other ideas or experiences? Feel free to share them in the comments!