for release Friday October 14, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on loneliness.
If you go to a church, you know what I mean by small groups (sometimes called “care” or “share” groups. If you’re not involved in a church, they might need a little illumination but are pretty self-explanatory: smaller groups within the church organized for the purpose of being able to get to know others better in a closer and more caring way. They might be a reason you’d want to get involved in a church—a way to fight the loneliness and isolation we talked about last week in this column.
Small groups in churches, or any social grouping, can be an antidote for our crazy culture where people feel isolated, alone, and that they have nowhere to turn.
But, wherever you have a small group of people, there is the potential for problems. The intention here is not to air the church’s dirty wash in a public setting: goodness knows, plenty of that goes on. But the problems of small groups in churches are the same for any social grouping, and we may avoid some of the hazards by being upfront about the problems.
A woman who has over the years given me so many good topic ideas for my columns that I secretly call her “Deep Throat,” first approached me about writing about this topic. I’ll call her Kelly. After Kelly and her husband started attending a new church where some friends went, they hoped their friends would ask them to also join their small group. But no one asked them. They felt excluded and shunned. The other couple responded that “We thought you would ask to join” but this couple felt that put them in the position of opening themselves to rejection.
There are always pitfalls and opportunities for problems in any group of people. The first and most-often heard problem is that sometimes people feel excluded, not invited, or that small groups result in cliques—friends who bond and do things together even outside the small group. This can feel hurtful and lonely for those who aren’t really included. Sometimes you can join a group but not really be in the “in” group. This happens no matter what social setting you are in—whether at work, in the neighborhood, at school, or at church.
Kelly observed that in the church she was attending, it seemed that beneath the surface, there were unhelpful power plays and exclusivity going on. Obviously I don’t know the full picture, but that was the way it appeared and felt to this couple. When they expressed this concern to church leadership, the response was, “There are cliques in any setting.” Kelly asked emphatically, “But shouldn’t a church try to fix the problem?” How ironic that one of the very reasons for care groups—to create community and help people feel like they belong—becomes an instrument of discord and ill feelings?
Certainly my “Deep Throat” source cuts to a need felt by all of society, and that is the ever present need for friends and connections. Just be aware of the undercurrents of the small groups in your church—are they healthy, unhealthy? Do perceptions match reality? Are people feeling excluded? Are people lonely? Why don’t some people ever want to join a small group or other club (aside from the perennial problem of those who say they are too busy)?
A recent TV sitcom addressed this same question (in a completely different way of course) looking at the problem of finding and keeping friends as married couples. In the sitcom, a couple whose best friends had “dropped them” tried to strike up a friendship with another couple at the home improvement store, to the extent that the couple being befriended felt they were being stalked, and complained to management. Most of us wouldn’t actually go that far but it does point up that having adult friendships can sometimes be difficult, especially where there are more than two people involved. In a friendship between two couples, there are actually four different people, increasing the odds that someone won’t get along with someone else.
But there has to be a better way, and it comes down to a group of mature men and women treating each other the way they want to be treated. Is that too much to ask of any social grouping? People are often so competitive in life it spills over into friendships. We want the coolest friends who have enough money to have fun with. In the job setting: are there people who would enjoy having someone to sit with at lunch, or going out to lunch? School lunchrooms aren’t the only places where people feel isolated and alone.
Examine all of your social relationships: if you’d like more contacts, check out a church and be sure to inquire about their small groups. If you need to be more inclusive of others yourself, find ways to reach out to those around you.
For a free booklet, Journey Through Lonelienss, write to: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 852 words; end material = 105 words
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