By Steve Gladen
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People often think they’re enjoying fellowship together when actually they’re only experiencing a small part of what fellowship is meant to be.
Here are some simple but effective steps a small group in your church can take to build fellowship and encourage genuine community:
- Offer new people a history of the group. Have everyone – including the first-timers – share a little bit about their family and a few of the activities they enjoy doing in their free time.
- Provide ice-breakers. Sometimes the silliest questions or activities are best. These help people get to know one another in a safe way.
- Celebrate milestones. Help foster community by celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, long-awaited adoptions, and other special events in people’s lives.
- Celebrate victories. In addition to job promotions and other achievements, make sure you celebrate spiritual victories and answers to prayer.
- Plan an overnighter. Arrange for an “adults only” weekend or a family getaway. The time spent together on an overnighter is equivalent to three months of nightly group meetings.
- Host a “Fun Night.” Instead of the usual study time, surprise the group with a night full of games and fun. Such a change of pace is both healthy and refreshing for the group.
- Institute a hot seat. Sit a person in the center of the circle and have everyone shower him or her with heartfelt affirmation. Statements can begin with, “You’re important to our group because …” Everyone needs this kind of affirmation from time to time.
- Tell stories. Plan a brief activity that encourages face-to-face interaction between members. This could be as simple as letting people share a story from the heart such as when they got saved or engaged or married. It could also be a time of sharing a personal story that is relevant to the study. When people share about their personal stories, community deepens.
- Pick up the phone. Follow-up calls strengthen community. When people are absent from the group, call to check on them. If a prayer need has been brought up, follow up to let them know you’re still praying. Those phone calls can go a long way toward affirming community. Be sure, too, to call or send a card to people who attended your group for the first time.
- Print a directory. A group roster is a simple but important tool for building fellowship and fostering community. Make it easy for people to connect outside of group time by sharing e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
- Keep a scrapbook. It’s very cool to be able to turn the pages of the book and retrace the journey the group has traveled on together. Of course, the person encouraging small group fellowship can find help with this assignment. And maybe even be able to delegate it entirely to another member of the group.