The healthiest small groups can be described as groups of real friends…friends who accept one another where they are, friends who are there for one another no matter what, no matter what time of day or night, friends who speak the truth in love and help one another grow in their relationships with God. 

But how do you as a small group leader make that happen? 

In response to an article I wrote for SmallGroupChurches.com (“8 Vital Heart Characteristics of a Small Group Leader”), Dean asked: “Healthy Small Group Leaders are friends. This one is the most important attributes to me and my experience is that it is easier stated than lived out. Did it take you guys five years to experience the level of friendship your talking about?” Here’s how I responded: 

Launch Right
I’ve found that when a group is put together by the church via a signup sheet or some other method, it may, of course, take a while for real friendships to happen. I led a group years ago that started from a signup sheet and it was terrible. There were no bonds at all. We had little in common. In my opinion, God did not put this group together (see 1 Cor. 12:18), people did, and in a very imperfect manner! On the other hand, I’ve been a part of groups in which the members already had some connections or were already friends beforehand, and these groups took off.
When I look at how Jesus formed his group (see Luke 6:12-13), he already knew them. They were already following him (Luke 5); he already had a relationship with each of them. Most importantly, he spent the night talking to the Father before calling these 12 guys to be in his discipleship group.
If you want to have a group of real friends, then you must allow God to arrange the parts of the group just as HE (not you) wants them to be, and that means spending time with Him in prayer. Then, INVITE (yes, invite) people to your group. Look around you. Who has God put into your life? You don’t need no stinkin’ signup sheet! 
Build on the Right Foundation
To grow these relationships, you must spend time with group members … and not just at meetings. Leaders need to invest into each person. Here’s the rub: There’s NO WAY one leader can do all that, so this is why sharing leadership with a Core team of leaders is so critical. I spend most of my time with these 3-4 team leaders who in turn invest into 3-4 others. Jesus had his inner circle of Peter, James, and John, and you can see in the Gospels how close Jesus was with these three men. I believe he was also friends with James Son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and the others, but he really invested into the three guys in his inner circle. You don’t have to be best friends with every member of the group! Who are the two or three that you sense God has given you to invest into? How can you share leadership with them, allowing them, in turn, to invest into two or three others? 
Building relationships definitely shouldn’t take 5 years! But it also takes more than 5 days! It takes as long as it takes, but it happens faster and better by hanging out together between meetings.

More on Developing Real Friendships in Groups

10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing

Are You Building Walls or People?

Follow the Instructions

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