Myth: Don’t Get Too Close to People in the Group

April 2019

By Joel Comiskey, check out, Groups that Thrive

“Don’t get too close to other members in the group because if you do, stagnation will happen, and the group will eventually die.” This is what I believed and taught for years. But I was wrong! In the past, when I heard people talking about deep community in the group, I figured their groups were not evangelizing and probably going to stagnate. 

The surprising discovery in our book Groups that Thrive is that community stimulates growth and new groups. It naturally leads to outreach, new leaders, and more groups. True community and fervent outreach should not be mutually exclusive. As a group grows in love and unity, there’s also the desire to reach out. Community fosters health, vibrancy, and outreach.

The research shows that newcomers not only come to the group where community is strong but also want to stay. When care and love are abundant in groups, newcomers want to stick around. They feel like they’ve found a family, a home away from home.

Those who attend caring groups invite their friends. They sense there’s something different about the group and about the church. They feel special and wanted. They want to join.

We also noticed a correlation between caring relationships and developing new leaders. Where caring for people was strongest, groups were able to multiply more frequently.

Community strengthens the sending out of new leaders because new, potential leaders need a caring atmosphere in which to try, fail, and try again.

Mistakes are encouraged and love reigns. Each person feels that their contribution is valued and  important. Gift use is high in this environment and members are free to experiment with multiple gifts. Leaders are also developed.

Groups should have a chance to develop community and this takes time. I have to admit that I’ve forced groups to multiply too quickly in the past. I remember one small group, in which we enjoyed sweet fellowship and community. The main couple who attended the group had a lot of non-Christian friends, booming secular business in the city, and loved the group.

Yet, after a certain amount of time, I felt we needed to multiply because that’s what small groups were supposed to do. The problem was that it wasn’t natural. The community was not deep enough, and no one was ready to facilitate the new group. This couple correctly realized that I was forcing the group to multiply before it was ready—something that I only later realized. They eventually left the group and the church.

Yes, new births will be painful, and discomfort is part of the growing experience. But I also think we need to make sure that the pain isn’t self-inflicted through misdirected motivation and forced outcomes. The emphasis should always be on lovingly making disciples who make disciples and never forget that it’s a process that takes time.

I now rejoice in those who are constantly promoting community because I’m one of them! And how exciting to know that community (practicing the one-anothers) is not only biblical but it also produces more growth and multiplication.