There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as being in a small group when every person is completely sold out to the other group members yet are honored as important individuals. That is, each person is singing her/his part, all the parts are equally important, and the song is in tune. At this point a group will experience it’s own group personality, being one without losing ones self. At this point the group will exhibit life-giving synergy. This kind of synergy can only be experienced when each person in the group is moving forward in his/her own personal journey toward deeper levels of connection, what I call “emotional evolution.”
Most of us have had the unsettling feeling, almost panic, of entering a new small group for the first time. If you haven’t been the new guy or girl in an already established group, you most likely have had the experience of being at the first meeting of a newly formed group. You’ve experienced the first group meeting jitters (for some… anxiety). It is painfully obvious early on that the goal of deep connectedness cannot be reached immediately.
God made us in such a way that progressive intimacy is part of our makeup. The term progressive intimacy simply means that our level of intimacy with one another is progressive, moving from minute to amazingly deep over a period of time. Each of us goes through various stages. So that you can understand the process your group members are progressing through, I’ve outlined my perception of this process below.
Stage 1. Invitation – Honored to be part of the group.
Stage 2. Expectation – Prior to first meeting emotions arise concerning possibilities for group experience and group relationships.
Stage 3. Intimidation – New people, new surroundings, need to be loved and accepted overwhelmed by what seems to be the depth of spiritual lifestyles of others.
Stage 4. Inhibition – Inhibited because people still don’t know if this is a safe haven or a dangerous relational jungle
Stage 5. Exploration – Exploring their place in the group.
Stage 6. Evaluation – Mental exercise asking questions vital to the individual. Who am I in this group? Do I really fit in? Are these people really accepting me? Do I really accept them?
Stage 7. Actualization – An accepting of my role in this group, the people in this group, the leader of the group, etc. This group does have the shared goal, like passion, and sincerity of heart to see God act that I do.
Stage 8. Reconciliation – I know and accept my place in this community of believers, trust them to know my needs and respond, trust them to keep conversations confidential. We are Christian community with like goals and callings. I am reconciled to living the principles espoused in the group covenant.
Stage 9. Exhibition – Because I have learned this is a safe environment and because I have concluded that I am accepted here and that I am a person of worth to these people, and because deep in my heart I realize I am part of this community, I can exhibit the real me.
Stage 10. Elation – there is no place I’d rather be. Being me is fun, exciting, and relaxing. I am elated to spend time in this environment.
Please know, the length of time an individual is in each of these stages will differ from person to person. Also, some people will skip various stages and move directly to the next. Some will get stuck in a stage and never choose to move forward unless prompted to do so by a life experience, conversation/conversations with a group member, or a planned activity like a retreat or the group being on mission together. And others will go forward then some experience (someone breaks a confidence, attacks them publicly or behind his/her back, etc…) with a group member or the entire group will force them backward and it will be necessity for them to relive prior stages.
Small group leader, know where each of your group members are living and help them move through the stages of “emotional evolution.” It will be worth it!