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3 Measures of an Authentic Small Group (The Tri-Focals of Authenticity)

by Zach Below

I have long said that the innovators of the modern small group movement are master marketers. I’m talking masters on the same level of the man who created the word synergy in the business world or McDonald’s convincing me that “I’m loving it” even though I know good and well that I don’t.

Small group innovators create their own catchphrases about small groups that upon first glance make them seem almost utopian, like everything we’ve ever wanted out of a church program. The words community, life together, and authentic are put in our bulletins, our books, and are generally thrown around as some of the main definers of small groups.

While all of these descriptors are great targets to shoot for, we have to be honest and define what it would really take for our groups to step into the fullness of something like life together, community, or authenticity. So I wanted to give you three measures of an authentic small group and answer the question, “What must be present if we are going to truly call our groups authentic?” Here are the tri-focals of authenticity.

1. Authentic Selves

The west side of Evansville, IN (where I live) is steeped in tradition. People rarely move away, and if they do leave and come back, they come back to the west side. It’s generational. The parents of my friends went to school with my parents, and now my own kids go to school with my friends’ kids. Every time we hang out, there are 20 years of history built in. You know what I love (and hate) about that? There is no hiding who you really are! I can’t fake it around them. Sure they’ve seen me grow and fall back and grow again—but I can’t fool them with “religiosity” or pretense. It is, if nothing else, authentic.

It’s very sad, but there is a real fear of showing our true cards in the church world—of showing who we really are. When I walk around our church lobbies, I see broken people (including myself) who feel like they have to shine themselves up to prove that they really love Jesus. If our groups are ever going to be worthy of being tagged “authentic,” we have to shut that practice down and model a more authentic self—no more, no less.


2. Authentic Relationships

Here is the thing about small groups: they are made up of individual people. TV shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” “Big Bang Theory,” and “New Girl” get us all twisted with this idea. It appears that they have a relationship or function only as a group. What’s funny about these shows is that there are always a couple of episodes where two members of the group will somehow end up isolated together and have no idea how to talk or relate to one another. It makes for hilarious television, but it’s much more awkward when it plays out in your own life. So what’s the take-away of this? You can’t have an authentic relationship with a group. The only way to have authentic relationships as a group is to be connecting authentically with the individuals that make up your group.

Stop for just a moment and think of your small group or the last small group you were in. Think of the individuals. If there is someone in your mind who you have never had an actual, personal conversation with, it’s time to remedy that. If our groups are going to wear the badge of authenticity, we have to be mindful of making authentic connections with the individuals in our groups, not just the group as a whole. So text or message the person who came to mind and invite him or her out for coffee this week.

3. Authentic Acts

If we are going to call our groups authentic, then our actions need to be authentic as well. If we are nothing more than a group of Christians that comes together once a week to chat, study, and fellowship, then we are not acting as an authentic community. Sitting week after week, month after month, sometimes year after year on comfy couches in air-conditioned living rooms talking about how to change the world is not authentic action. Put simply, if our groups are going to act authentically, they must get off the couch and engage the community. If you need some help starting the “authentic act” of conversation with your group, check out  Small Groups, Mission, and an Abandoned Community Garden or Four Principles for Maximizing Kingdom Impact.

Which of these three do you struggle with the most? Which of these three do you need to work on as a group? I’d love to hear from you.

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