How to Build Friendships in Small Groups

By Phil Sommerville
This is the second in a series on how to have an irresistible small group.

The success of your small group will rise and fall on relationships.  Here’s why:

  • If people feel welcome and wanted they’re more likely to stay
  • If people have friends in the group, they’re more likely to stay
  • If people feel appreciated, they’re more likely to participate in discussion
  • If people trust the others in the group, they’re more likely to open up and be honest.
  • If people are able to open up and share their lives, they’re more likely to experience the power of God’s transformation.

Friendships are the glue that holds a group together.  They are also the conduits through which God works in our lives.  God will speak to you through me and speak to me through you.  This is God’s design for growth.  We grow to experience all God has created us to be as each of us contributes the gifts, skills and insights God has blessed us with (see Ephesians 4:7-16).

I tell new group leaders that the most important thing they can do when launching their group is to create opportunities to build relationships.  Once the relationships are built, everything else in the life of your group will be enhanced.  The discussions will be better.  The personal applications will be more meaningful.  The ministry to each other will be richer.  The service will be more effective.  And the experience of God’s presence will be more powerful.

So what can you do to build friendships in your group?  Some of you are naturals at this and can’t figure out why anyone would need help with this, but for the rest of us here’s a grab bag of ideas:

Throw a Party!  As I write, the Christmas season is almost here.  Instead of a Bible Study, have a party during your normal small group time.  You could do a Christmas cookie exchange, a White Elephant, an ornament exchange (for extra fun have everyone purchase an ornament that they think somehow represents them.  Wrap them anonymously and when you select and unwrap the ornament, try to decide who it represents.  At the end, everyone reveals what ornament they brought and why).  You can have parties throughout the year to celebrate birthdays, or the end of a series, or just to have fun.  You’re not a party planner?  Someone in your group probably loves to throw parties.  Put them in charge.

Greet people enthusiastically.  When new people come, make them feel at home.  Learn their names and use them frequently to make sure you don’t forget.  Introduce them to others in the group.  Ask questions and find out more about them.  When you identify things they have in common with other group members, make sure you connect them.  Your job is to make sure people, especially new people, are never ignored.

Share testimonies.  Each week have a different person share a little about their spiritual journey.  How did they become a Christian?  How have they grown?  What were their ups and downs?  What or who helped them the most?  Tell people to keep it to 10 minutes or less and preassign what week people will share so that they have time to prepare.  This is powerful.

Take advantage of the Small Group Study questions.  A good small group study will ask questions that will not only help people understand the Bible but also get them to open up and share something about their own life and experiences as it applies to the lesson being learned.  I like to say a good small group study will get people to open up the Bible and their lives at the same time.  So, look for studies that will do both.  Then, don’t skip the personal questions as needless fluff.  They play an important role.  By the way, all Faith Alive 365 studies seek to balance biblical discovery with personal sharing.

Other ideas:

  • Have potlucks before the small group study
  • Go bowling, miniature golfing, or if you’re wild and crazy, go-cart racing
  • Go camping or on a weekend retreat
  • Have a family game night
  • Create a roster so everyone has everyone else’s addresses, email and phone numbers
  • Make a phone call to check-in and say hi
  • Send a note of appreciation, or affirmation, or to say you missed them

If a small group is like a chocolate chip cookie (see my previous post) then friendship is the flour that holds it all together and makes it work. 

Phil Sommerville is co-founder of Faith Alive 365 and a former Small Groups Pastor who has trained hundreds of small group leaders from churches of all sizes.

Read more articles in Small Group Leadership Tips |

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