In a healthy Community Group, the members are growing in their relationship with God and with each other. It can be difficult for leaders to maintain a balance between discussing the substance of a study and group members sharing their hearts. It can also be difficult to navigate general updates on everyone's lives while leading the group toward vulnerability with one another. So, how do you cultivate authenticity in your group?
Be vulnerable and transparent. Your group members follow your lead. If you're vulnerable, they'll be more likely to be vulnerable. Be transparent about the struggles you've faced in the past and the struggles you face right now. Community Group members sometime will disconnected from the leader. They assume leaders don’t struggle with the same things they do. And let's face it, that's not true. Sharing your heart in an intentional way not only shows them you struggle with life just like that do, it models the kind of vulnerability and transparency you want for them. When you ask a question that challenges your group to be vulnerable and transparent, be ready to answer the question first in or to lead by example.
Encourage consistent attendance. When members of a Community Group miss lots of group meetings, it hinders the depth of the group experience. From the beginning of the group, help your group members understand how important it is to commitment to regular attendance (the Group Agreement is a helpful tool for casting that vision). Give the group permission to hold each other accountable. Give them permission to hold you accountable. If a group member's attendance starts to become inconsistent, initiate a one-on-one conversation. Do so sooner rather than later.
Create opportunities to share. It can be easy to move from one study to the next as you help each member of the group grow in various areas of their lives. But if you're not paying attention, this can lead the group toward knowledge and topic growth without relational and community growth. Set up “check-in” points throughout the life of the group. These are free nights during which group members can talk about what God is teaching them and how he's growing them. They can also open up about areas in which they're currently struggling and can use the group's support. The Group Member Assessment is a great tool for initiating and navigating those kinds of conversations.
Cultivating authenticity is one of the most challenging tasks for a Community Group leader. But it's worth the effort because it paves the way one of the most important aspects of our lives as followers of Christ. In John 13:34–35, Jesus calls us to love one another sacrificially:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Knowing what's going on in one another's hearts and lives is the first step to loving others and allowing others to love us like that.