At the end of our fall semester, I had all the participants of our various Fuel Groups give some feedback about how their group went. I would honestly have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve done for groups. As I read over the evaluations I feel there were two big things that mattered to people that stood out to me.
- Connection Matters. Over and over again the people who rated their group the highest commented how connected they felt to the other people in their group. They related to the other people in the group and didn’t feel so alone in their struggles. These same people often commented how the group helped them to feel closer to God. And this totally makes sense when you read 1 John 4:11-12 which says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The more we love others and feel loved by others, the easier it is for us to love God and feel loved by God. Our group evaluations proved this. I remember a few years ago when a family in our group was going through a fostering-to-adopt process. Every single week we listened to them and loved them and prayed with them. We cried when things were hard, and we rejoiced when things went well. It was a special time for all of us. But, I know they felt God’s nearness through their journey and a big part was because they felt close to our group. As you begin your Fuel Group, it’s very important to help your people feel connected to each other.
- Sharing Matters. Numerous groups commented how much the ability to share openly mattered. People loved feeling like they could share their struggles, and felt like their opinion was important. They wanted to be heard and understood. I think this is a big shift for many discussion leaders. Usually a leader will go into discussion thinking, “I hope everyone will hear what I have to say.” But, everyone else is entering the discussion thinking, “I hope people will validate me and that I will be listened to.” They hope their opinion counts. Because of this, sometimes when we talk about group discussion I’ll joke with our leaders, “In discussion, no one cares what you have to say.” I only half mean this- but what I’m trying to get across is that our job as discussion leaders is not to make everyone in group see how smart we are, but to help the people in our group feel smart. We want to lead them on a path of discovery- helping them discover and apply the truth for themselves. In group discussion, try speaking a little less, and help others speak more.
Here’s an interesting idea: the more we can help the people in our group feel closer to each other this semester, the easier it will be for them to feel closer to God. The easier it is for them to feel closer to God, the easier they will grow in their faith.
Here’s 3 tips to help people feel connected and feel safe to share:
- Welcome them each week. Let them know you’re glad to see them. Ask them about their week and take interest in their lives.
- Be vulnerable. Let your group see that you’re not perfect. The more you do this, the easier it will be for people in your group to reveal their own fears and imperfections. You want the people in your group to know, “This is a safe place to be imperfect.”
- Validate people when they share. If someone shares something personal, thank them for sharing. Let the group know that that’s the sort of sharing we love to have. Let the person sharing know that they’re not alone and other people can relate to them. Again, this will let your group know that they can be real about their life in group.