Friend Groups: A New Small Groups Approach (Part 1)

The main purpose of this blog is to help the Church rediscover the ancient Christian practice of spiritual friendship. You can read more in depth on the history and theology of the practice in some previous blogs (check out the sub-categories under the “blog” menu above). But in case you’re new here, the gist of spiritual friendship is this:

Spiritual friendship is an intentional friendship that capitalizes on each other’s shared love for Jesus to become better followers of him. 

Notice a key word here is “intentional.” All friendships are spiritual, but not all friendships are spiritual friendships. They’re all spiritual in that everyone has a soul, and God’s design for us as interconnected beings implies that all relationships have spiritual dynamics to them (we’ll get into that more another time). But actual “spiritual friendships” are when two or more friends capitalize on their shared love of Jesus to help each other in their spiritual journey. Again: there’s deep intentionality here.

I’ve talked a lot about the theology of spiritual friendship, our God-given design for community, and the causes and effects of the looming loneliness epidemic in our country, but I have yet to dive into a really key part of spiritual friendship:

How do we actually make spiritual friends? 

Spiritual friendships can be developed between any likeminded believer, but in a world that is increasingly isolated, Christians can be a part of a “church body” without knowing “anybody.” How can Christ followers actually meet and develop spiritual friends? 

There’s a myriad of ways this could happen, but I think one of the greatest means to doing this is by rethinking how the Church does small groups.  

Small groups bear the greatest potential for spiritual friendships to really take off. However, the irony is this: while small groups can provide community, they may not necessarily provide spiritual friendship. Whether they’re called small groups, or Life Groups, or Home Groups, or Discipleship Groups, or simply Communities—what have you—every church has a different approach to small groups, and each approach yields different results for the group. No approach is better than the others. It just comes down to what the group wants to accomplish.

For example, if a small group of 12 people meets for a weekly Bible study, they will discuss a lot of doctrine and increase their knowledge of the Word. Naturally, their friendships will grow the more they meet together. That’s a given fact. But because of the group’s approach, they won’t be able to develop spiritual friendships between each other. 

Or say a group of 4-6 people meet to pray with one another and intercede for the needs of the community. The group will grow closer naturally from participating in prayer together and consistently meeting over time. But again, they won’t necessarily be developing their spiritual friendship with one another because the approach doesn’t make the time to do so. 

One last example. If the purpose of another small group is just for church friends to gather and have fellowship with one another, they’ll discuss a lot about their lives, play games, eat a meal, and even pray for one another—but they will not develop their spiritual friendships with each other because the approach isn’t designed to achieve that result.

Every small group has different approaches that produce different results, and each approach will inadvertently provide a taste of what spiritual friendship is like. But this is why most small group approaches create great spiritual acquaintances rather than deep spiritual friendships. All small group approaches will play off the spirituality of the members’ friendships with each (all friendships are spiritual) but they will not necessarily develop spiritual friendships. Are you catching the difference?

So this begs the question: Does such a small group approach exist that intentionally develops members’ spiritual friendships? 

The answer: Yes. Absolutely.

This approach is largely inspired by what David G. Benner calls “spiritual accompaniment groups” in his book, Sacred Companions. But to put it more simply (and make it more “marketable”), I call them Friend Groups.

The goal of Friend Groups is not to discuss content. It’s not even focused on reading Scripture together. The goal is to allow three to five people maximum to discuss how they experienced God within the last week, and for everyone else to just… listen….

Intrigued?

There are 3 core practices that make up Friend Groups. But you’ll have to stay tuned next week to hear all about them.

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