In our world today people hunger greatly for two things: spirituality and community. We long to be close to God and to one another. We long for a place where we can know and be known at the deepest levels.

For the most part, the reality of God and the spiritual realm have been banished from modern culture. In spite of the secularizing influences that surround us, we cry out from our alienation, longing for a deeper relationship with the One who created us.

We also experience the dehumanizing, depersonalization of everyone living on the face of the earth. As only a face in a crowd or a number on a computer screen, we belong to families, neighborhoods, and churches that no longer provide us with a sense of community.

The answer to these two needs can be found in Christian community. The interest in small groups in recent years is a sign that God is meeting these needs in the life of the Church. God is calling Christian men and women into small, face-to-face communities whose sole aim is to encourage one another in their spiritual lives.

Gareth Icenogle is right when he says, Growth is the process and product of the community, not the isolated individual. Persons grow when they are in relationship with God and with one another. Persons remain in spiritual infancy when they refuse to participate in community (koinonia). Christians who cannot relate to one another in face-to-face situations are missing the reality, hope, and growth of sanctorum communio, the communion of the saints. To be together with other Christians in a small group is to open oneself to being formed in Christ.”

Effective Groups

For many years I have been privileged to help form and nurture spiritual formation groups where people gather to discuss their spiritual lives, encourage one another, and make specific plans to grow in their faith, to become disciples of Christ. And through letters and telephone calls I have the opportunity to share in the common joys and struggles that many groups experience. From them I have learned that effective groups have several things in common:

  • Living in dependence upon Christ;
  • Seeking renewal continually;
  • Focusing on Christ together;
  • Watching over one another in love;
  • Working toward a common goal;
  • Cultivating stronger relationships;
  • Feeling greater security;
  • Deepening their level of trust;
  • Growing closer through prayer.

While this list is not exhaustive, it offers some of the important ingredients of an effective spiritual formation group. Often I hear members tell how one or more of these dimensions is experienced in their group and how meaningful it is.

I also hear the opposite. People complain, for example, that their group lacks an atmosphere of trust or cannot seem to stay on any kind of agenda or has a member who dominates the time. Whether coming from the positive or negative— the joys or the problems — these ingredients are important for all spiritual formation groups to understand and develop.

Healthy Growth

From my experience, I have learned that one or more of these dimensions has been lacking in every single group of which I have been a member. I have been in groups that were highly task oriented and successful at accomplishing goals but lacked relational harmony. Other groups had harmony in relationships but had trouble keeping Christ at the center. You, too, can probably point to experiences in your spiritual life and past or present groups which reflect strength in one area and weakness in another.

Let me encourage you to use the above list, turning the statements into questions: Am I/we dependent upon Christ? Am I/ we seeking renewal continually?” and so on. If you think of other dimensions that are important, add them. Use them in your small group. Most of all, I encourage you to keep striving and inspiring each other to be all that you can be” as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

· Last Featured on April 2024