Life Giving Life Groups
Some years ago, I attended an annual C.O.R.E. conference (Clinical Overview of the Recovery Experience) and heard a researcher talk about the effectiveness of 12 Step programs in the recovery process. He said that there were two factors that made this type of therapy successful: community and spirituality. When I heard his conclusion, I immediately thought, “Church.”
I have worked with 12 Step groups and I know how powerful and life giving community can be. I have also worked with Life Groups in churches and have seen how they can be life giving too, but often fall short. It has made me ask, “What is the difference?”
I think there are six critical factors for any group to become a life giving group.
1. The group must embrace confidentiality.
What is shared in the group, must stay in the group. If the group becomes a source of gossip, even in the form of a “prayer request,” individuals will feel violated and the group will stop being a life giving group.
2. The group must be vulnerable.
There must be a willingness of all in the group to share themselves: the good, the bad, and the ugly. If there are some who hold back to protect themselves, the group will stop being life giving.
3. The group must be non-judgmental.
Regardless of what is shared, the group must be able to contain what is shared without judgment. This does not mean that we will all agree by what is shared. It doesn’t mean that we will not be horrified by what is shared. But if any individual feels judged, condemned, or excluded by what is shared, the group will stop being a life giving group.
4. The group must be honest.
If there is vulnerability, then there is the freedom to be honest. This requires that there is a felt sense of safety. There may be some in the group who are not fully authentic because what they are really seeking is approval, then the honesty breaks down and the group will stop being a life giving group.
5. The group must have love and acceptance.
True love and acceptance mean that there is a freedom to challenge each other and to disagree with each other, but all the while knowing that we will not stop loving each other. This is where real growth can happen. If I know that I am loved, I can accept your corrective counsel. But if there is not genuine love, the group will stop being a life giving group.
6. The group must have time.
A life giving group takes time to develop. Some groups are much slower to develop, but given enough time, any group can become a life giving group if there is the assurance of confidentiality, non-judgmental attitudes, vulnerability, honesty, love and acceptance.
I have seen this in 12 Step Groups and I have seen individuals change and grow. I would like to see it more often in church.