Growing into Christian Community:
Stages of Group Development

Small Christian Communities
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Growing into Christian Community: Stages of Group Development
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When Jim and Marge first joined a small Christian community, they experienced a taste of heaven. They marveled at the love in the group. To them, the people in the group seemed like angels on earth. However, over the next two years, divisions developed between group members. Marge wondered if her new friends weren’t more like devils than angels! It took parish leaders several months to iron out the difficulties. After that, Jim and Marge came to a crucial realization—community members were neither angels nor devils, just people searching to know God and God’s love by establishing bonds of faith, hope, and love with one another.

Jim and Marge’s experience of small community might have gone more smoothly, if everyone understood the normal stages of small group development. A process of growth is set into motion as people continue to gather over a period of time. Groups move from the initial stages of becoming acquainted and establishing polite relationships, into more increasingly developed stages of unity. A growing community naturally experiences ups and downs. Developmentally, these ups and downs or growing pains are actually necessary steps in every group, if growth is to continue. These steps are normal and play a significant part in the deepening of community among people of faith. We see examples of small community growth in the community of Jesus’ disciples (see Mark 9:33–34; Luke 9:10–17; Luke 24; Acts 2:43–47 and 5:1–11).

Scripture also encourages communal growth through the image of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–8), the description of the community in Acts 2, and the story about the tiny mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32). St. Paul prays that the Ephesians’ community be “strengthened…as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (3:16–17). Love is the key to journeying through the stages of small Christian community in a life-giving and fruitful way. St. Therese of Lisieux, who recognized human limitations and antipathies in her own religious community, knew that some suffering attended community growth. St. Therese realized that only a love centered in Christ can bring about Christian maturity.

[1] See St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1996), p, 221. Copyright © 2001 by RENEW International