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We seek to build community in a variety of ways at church, including testimonies, lunches, prayer times, game nights, and more, but one of the key ways is through small groups. This is where you can regularly get to know people more genuinely and have deeper, more significant conversation, study, and prayer. Community is more about enjoying the ride and less about a precise destination or formula. However, there are some basic steps that must be included.  

The first is to set a new target. The new target is to know who the person really is. It’s to peel the layers of the onion. To allow people the opportunity to open up and to seek ways to really know them. It doesn't mean you don’t enjoy time talking about the big game on Saturday, where your favorite shopping boutique is, or who has the best burger in town. Those are fun ways to know people. But it also means we don't want to be satisfied or fooled by superficial conversation. We want to truly know them. 

The second step is to act intentionally. In building relationships there is no substitute for time. You have to put this in, but time is wasted if we are not intentional. A key way to act intentionally is to ask questions. We need to assume people are reluctant to share what is really going on in their lives.

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). A gently moving stream is beautiful to look at with its swirling currents and eddies gliding along the surface, but underneath that serene surface can be beautiful rocks, fallen trees, and even dangerous caverns. What lies underneath doesn’t always show itself on the top. Likewise, people are complex, and a man of wisdom will seek to gently go below the surface to know them more deeply. 

Jesus was unique in his ministry. That whole omniscient thing made it much easier to know people. Since no one in our church has that gifting, we try to provide leaders with some simple questions to ask the group that will intentionally promote community. This helps peel the layers or look beneath the water. It creates intentional community in non-threatening ways and trains leaders to surgically cut through the superficial. 

A wise craftsman knows the exact tool to use on every occasion. We need to build a tool box full of tools that we can go to and leverage when the need arises. But most craftsmen also have their bread and butter tools that they accomplish most of their work with. For groups we have developed a bank of questions to use to get to know people and break the relational ice that often sets in. It may be questions like favorite hobbies, books, bucket lists, vacations, embarrassing moments, formative times in life, spiritual conversion, what is God doing in your life, and more. These all have a place in relationships. 

One of our bread and butter questions is simply asking what was your high and low for the week. Some call it “the happy and crappy.” This question helps people to see there is a genuine desire to know them. We are not interested in bypassing a relationship to get them some Bible answers. We want to know what is really going on in life. I’ve opened meetings with this simple question and had people who were deeply moved because they “had never experienced meaningful conversation like that” or “never felt like anyone cared.” It can be a powerful question for those who are in relational poverty.

For groups we also keep it simple, and ask people to share this in a couple minutes. It is a very easy first step that all people can manage. I often have to tell guys to give me at least one minute. Many find it difficult to go beyond “good.” But others need to be encouraged to keep it under two minutes. Building healthy relationships means sharing enough to know but not so much that no one else can get a word in. Knowing the questions ahead of time also provides a predictability that enables reticent people to open up.

This simple approach creates conversation and community, but doesn’t monopolize time. After all, there are other important steps to building genuine Christian community, and one of those is studying the word. We want to allow for that, but this time of connecting is essential to having a meaningful time in the Word. Groups can always spend more time together, but a little time and intentionality goes a long way. And this also allows for more meaningful questions as you get into the word. People begin to expect it.

Genuine community is not something you happen upon like a pot of gold, but rather something you have to build and invest in. Those who do so will find a great reward. And those who begin building real and deep friendships in the church, will soon weave a rewarding and compelling relational net that just might catch many others.