What produces a genuinely deep connection? Is it just time spent with someone? Or are there other essential ingredients?
When I listed what I called the top 10 axiomatic beliefs of group life, I included the belief that “the longer a group is together the more deeply connected the members become.” I’ve heard this argued hundreds of times, mostly in response to the idea that good groups grow and birth. “But we’ve just started to really connect! How can you ask us to send out Bob and Carol now!” You’ve probably had the discussion too. You may have been on either side of the argument…
But the question is, what really produces a deep connection? And if you’ve been observant in group ministry you’ll know right away that there are plenty of groups that have been together for a long time and still really don’t know each other all that well; certainly wouldn’t consider themselves “knit together in love.” So what causes that?
Two Essential Ingredients
I believe there are at least two other ingredients that play a bigger part than time when it comes to deep connection. First, a common understanding of the purpose of the group is essential. If half the group’s members long to “do life together” and the other half is really only in it to meet some kind of obligation to the church or pastor…it’s unlikely to get very far. Does it need a common purpose from the beginning? No, but you’ve got to help them get there pretty quickly, probably within the first 3 to 4 months. This is where the idea of a group agreement or covenant is beneficial. Clearly stating the purpose of the group can start the group on a course for a deeper connection.
The second essential ingredient is intentionality. Groups don’t drift into a deeper connection. Group members choose to go deeper. Sometimes life chooses for us. We’ve all seen groups that responded to a crisis in the life of a member and found that they had somehow grown closer. Short of life crowding in, an intentional approach to how group life happens produces a deeper connection. Developing a spiritual health plan that incorporates accountability can be an expression of intentionality. Can you introduce this in the first week? Probably not. But you’d best not wait too long. Group norms harden pretty quickly and it becomes much more difficult to introduce new ideas after about 6 to 9 months.
You may have identified other essential ingredients. The key is to recognize that more than time is required. Without a purpose and intentionality, groups are unlikely to develop a deep connection. And without a deep connection, life-change, the kind of life-change we hope will happen…will be much less likely.