Unfortunately, this is not automatic for groups. It takes some work to get there. Here are a few things to consider in helping your group reach a closer, more open place:
1. How often is your group meeting? Groups that meet more frequently tend to gel more quickly, if they are willing. But, it’s not just the Bible study that helps this. How often do you connect with each other? The early church connected daily (Acts 2:46). That may not seem possible in this day and age. Actually, it’s more possible. Social media like Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect with people not just daily, but even hourly. Instant messages, text messages, and cell phones provide avenues for us to connect. What would it mean to you to have someone leave a message on your cell phone just to say that they are thinking about you and praying for you? These connections help groups grow closer.
2. What happens outside of the group affects what happens in the group. This actually cuts both ways. If your group is made up of couples, close friends (prior to the group), or relatives, the relationships they bring into the group will affect the closeness of your group. If couples are close and open with each other, then they will be open in the group. If couples aren’t as close or open at home, but try to be open in the group, you’ll see plenty of fireworks or tears as a result. It might be wise to have couples reflect on questions together rather than openly share in the group at first.
On the other hand, if your group only meets together for a weekly Bible study, you are also missing out on the opportunity to gel. If your group socializes or serves together on occasion, this will help to deepen the relationships in the group. Even prayer partners getting together outside of the group meeting will help the group gel.
3. The speed of the leader, the speed of the team. This is a saying I picked up for Willow Creek Community Church where Bill Hybels pastors. As the leader, your group will be as open as you are. If you freely share your own hurts, habits and hang-ups, so will the group. If you are more reserved as the leader, your group will also be more reserved as a whole. Rick Warren puts it well, when he says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” As you open up as the leader, your group will also open up and be drawn closer together.
4. Does your group want support and accountability? It’s great to provide an opportunity for these things, but it’s not so great when it’s imposed on you. In fact, if your group members don’t willfully volunteer for accountability, it can easily turn into legalism and defeat. I would recommend offering the idea of having prayer partners for a short period of time. A pair of group members (same gender of course) would meet together a couple of times a month outside of the group meeting. They could meet in-person, by phone, or even online to pray for each other and encourage each other. If the group members like it, then they will continue. If not, it was just a short-term commitment. Once the commitment is over, they are no longer obligated to continue.
5. Some groups never gel, and that’s okay. On the surface, everyone may seem to get along very well. But, once people get to know each other a little better, some may wish that they hadn’t. That’s okay. Some personalities just rub each other the wrong way. If your group has been meeting for a while and has tried all of the above, but still doesn’t seem to gel, it might be time to be honest with yourself and your group: it’s time to re-group. Not every group works. Whether you decide to break for a season, then form another group later on or just encourage the group to try other groups, it’s not right for an ill fitting group to be forced to continue.
My hope for you and your group is that you will grow to become a close-knit group that challenges and encourages each other. It’s not automatic, but it is worthwhile. As your group continues to get together and get involved in each others’ lives, you will begin to gel.