Help your small group experience community
Many Bible study groups have meetings, but not enough experience true community. Too often we give our lives to Bible study without giving them to one another. In the process, we diminish the opportunity for God's words to speak to us. When groups gel, its individuals become more apt to divulge life situations, which allows others to offer biblical advice and support.
Here are some great ways to help your group become relationally connected, so that through community each person can experience spiritual growth.
Change the paradigm
People join groups anticipating varying levels of connection. In most instances, these assumptions come from past experience. Some members will have attended authoritarian discipleship groups that focused on intense study and heavy accountability but little relational connection. Some remember stale lecture-based classes that featured a talking head and little dialogue. It's important that you change the paradigm for those who in your group who have not experienced relational Bible studies.
To do this, you can instill the new paradigm verbally. Use phrases like, "We're about more than Bible study - we're doing life together." "I'm really enjoying our becoming friends." "I'm grateful that God is allowing us to experience life together." "I consider you guys my family." During your meetings, talk about recent experiences and conversations with other members. Create an agreed-upon, written covenant that emphasizes relationships, community, and interdependence.
Groups gel when they play together. Find out what games - indoor or outdoor - your group members are willing to play and get together just for that reason. There will always be a few hesitant group members. Go forward anyway! Once the laughter and fun is in full swing, they'll feel comfortable enough to join in.
Invite group members to your home aside from meeting times. These gatherings should be reserved strictly for fellowship. Invite them to watch a movie, play cards, play a board game, watch a special sporting event on television, cook out, or do anything else families enjoy.
Celebration bonds hearts. If someone gets a promotion at work, completes a degree, has a baby, or has a birthday or anniversary, get together for some kind of celebration. Throw a party any time you can!
Connect between meetings
Email your group members jokes, links to hilarious videos, or inspirational thoughts from their times with God. Ask them to do the same. This will give members something to talk about when they get together. Note that some employers do not allow employees to view these while at work.
Be on mission together
When groups are involved in a common missional cause becoming close is almost always the outcome. Work at a homeless shelter together on a Saturday, hold a garage sale for a single mom, clean house for shut-ins and serve them a meal. Better still, go on a mission trip together. I promise, you'll come back much closer than when you left.
Everybody needs a break from the hassles of everyday life. Set a weekend aside for your small group to go camping or rent a chalet in the mountains. Let groups of people go their separate ways to hike, shop, or play golf. But get back together for as many meals as possible. Don't overdo Bible study or devotions. Just allow group members to enjoy one another's company.