The beginning of a small group is important. You must start with a good foundation. The best foundation for any small group is threefold: Trust, Acceptance and Commitment.
Trust is the willingness of everyone in the group to risk getting hurt in order to pursue the relationship within the group. This will not just happen. The Lord must work in each person’s heart in order to motivate him or her to trust others. This is a spiritual decision, and prayer is the key. Trust is a personal decision, and each person must decide to trust. It cannot be forced or legislated. At the same time, it must be earned by those desiring to be trusted. But — and this is the crucial thing — the small group leader can either hinder or facilitate this process. To facilitate trust, the small group leader must do the following:
- Model trust – The small group leader must initiate trust rather than waiting for others to trust. He or she can do this by exposing himself or herself to the possibility of hurt. This usually happens when you allow others to know the real you. This information can easily be used by others to judge or reject you (thus the possibility of hurt). But sharing your life story or personal testimony can go a long way in facilitating trust.
- Communicate clear expectations – Talking about the group’s purpose or goal will help create an atmosphere of trust. The fear of uncertainty creates mistrust, because no one knows what to expect. Agree on the parameters of the group as well as the administrative details of the group (example: time and place of meeting, procedures, etc.). This will put everyone at ease.
- Encourage personal sharing – Let each one share their personal testimonies. This facilitates exposure, and then trust. The first few meetings can be devoted to this kind of activity in order to encourage trust. When you share yourself, you take a risk. When the members of the group respond with love and acceptance, trust is built. The small group leader must encourage personal sharing as soon as the small group starts meeting regularly.
- Create fun activities – These activities will facilitate trust. When people are relaxed and they’re enjoying each other’s company, trust will develop. The small group leader must intentionally plan for “webbing out” activities right at the very start of the small group in order to facilitate trust.
Acceptance is our response to trust. Instead of judgment or rejection, we can respond with acceptance every time someone in the group takes a step of faith to reveal themselves. This in turn will facilitate further trust in the group. Acceptance involves embracing the other person rather than judging or rejecting him or her. This is shown both through words and actions. The small group leader must pay attention to the reactions of the group whenever someone is sharing his or her life story. He or she must learn to guide or teach the group on how to accept one another.
At the same time, what would facilitate acceptance of each other is getting to know each other’s Personality Profile. The DISC system can be used to help the group discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The small group leader can guide the group through the DISC test and then help each member discover their Personality Profiles. Each person must learn to accept the others and not judge or reject them (example, by ridiculing or laughing at each other’s weaknesses) based on their Personality Profiles. (Click here to download a copy of the DISC Test)
Finally, the small group leader must encourage Commitment. Generally speaking, commitment is also about making promises to one another. These general promises include the following: 1) the promise to show care to one another, 2) the promise not to hurt each other intentionally, 3) the promise to be honest to each other, and 4) the promise to make time for the group. These promises can only be made by a person who knows that there is real trust and acceptance in the group.
Starting a small group with the right foundation will enable it to most likely succeed through the help of the Holy Spirit. See to it that you start your small group well.