What's the key to helping my small group experience authentic community?

How to Build an Authentic Community in Your Small Group

Many of us have probably lead or been in small groups where there wasn’t a deep connection between members for a long time, if at all. So it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest challenges of leading a small group is facilitating the formation of an authentic community. 

Often, when a group is new people show up, do the study and watch the DVD. They bring their Bibles and make some chitchat. But, make no mistake, although people are meeting and sharing this is not an authentic community. 

In an authentic community, there is a sense of safety and vulnerability, where people show up and are their “real” selves. They also start to meet the real needs of their fellow group members and they do it for the right reasons, which is to honor and love God and not to get strokes.

The best understanding of an authentic community comes out of Romans 12:9-13 where the Apostle Paul defines authentic community when he says, “Let love be without hypocrisy,” or literally, “without a mask.”  He goes on to say, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Then, Paul says how in an authentic community people rejoice in hope, devote their selves to prayer, and they care for one another by contributing to one another’s needs.

So how does authentic community actually happen? Our model of such a community is depicted in Acts 2:42-47 where we read about a church that was committed to the Word, committed to prayer, and committed to celebrating the Lord’s Supper and keeping Christ as their central focus. In the early church everyone had a great sense of unity and they shared many things in common. Basically, they did life with one another and they bore each other’s burdens.

In a similar way, small groups need to provide members with the time and space for authentic interactions to occur. But this can only happen when you as the leader meet your group members “real” needs, which are usually not convenient but costly. 

So maybe you’re wondering, “OK, I want authentic community, but I’m not sure if I can meet all these people’s ‘real’ needs, especially when I have my own life, family, job, etc. What can I do?”

One way is to choose one person in your group and go deep with them. As a leader, you can demonstrate authenticity for the rest of the group if you love even just one person deeply and authentically. The reality is, you can’t meet all the needs of all the people, but if you choose one person out of your group and be available to him or her, your actions could change the culture of the whole group.