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Support Groups for Christians

What is a support group?

Overcoming the lingering affects of addiction and moving into the fullness of the abundant life is an involved, long-term process. Through support groups, people in recovery can share their experience, strength and hope with one another. A support group is usually a small gathering of individuals who share similar struggles. Larger groups may have a common opening session and then break into small groups to allow more intimate fellowship and sharing. Support groups members come together at least weekly to share their struggles and their victories as a means of mutual encouragement. The best support groups practice a policy of strict confidentiality (and often anonynimity) so that their members can share freely without fear of others outside of the group learning about their problems.

Most of us become isolated and full of shame as a result of our addictions and other problems. This will work against any movement toward finding a better life for ourselves. A good support group will be a source of great hope and encouragement as we gain insights from becoming connected with others who share similar experiences.

Fortunately, in recent years we have witnessed the growth of Christian support groups. Those who use the Twelve Steps originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous seem to be the most effective.

Christian "support groups" are not a new idea-John Wesley's "Rules for Small Groups," written in 1816, is an outline that embodies "the Method" from which the name "Methodist" came. This method resulted in one of the greatest revivals the world has ever known. Believers gathered together in small groups, sharing honestly, becoming accountable to one another, asking probing questions, praying for one another with a deep knowledge of their mutual needs and struggles. Any believer can benefit from this type of gathering. It can be a tremendously healing and encouraging experience for those in recovery.

How can a support group help a Christian who is struggling?

Ideally, a good support group is, first, a place where recovering addicts will find true acceptance and a sense of what unconditional love is all about. It is a safe, non-judgmental setting where they can express struggles, thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of rejection. Hearing the stories of others with similar difficulties and how they overcame them, gives the struggling addict great encouragement to go on in a life of sobriety. Healthy support groups can provide a sort of "family "atmosphere that stimulates the hope for a better life in all involved. Because addiction wreaks havoc upon an individual's relationships with others, a good support group is a wonderful place for recovering addicts to begin the difficult and painful process of re-connecting with other people.

How do you identify a good support group?

In many ways, support groups are like churches -- all are not the same. That is why it's important to attend at least two or three meetings before making a judgment about any particular group.

Here are a few "hallmarks" of a healthy support group:

bullet Protects the confidentiality of its participants by not disclosing what members share during the meetings to those outside of the group.
bullet Avoids "cross talk" (interrupting out of turn) and offering unsolicited advice and counseling during the meeting.
bullet Provides the recovering person with a combination of personal support and group accountability
bullet Provides a format for honest sharing of personal thoughts and ideas
bullet Is a safe and non-judgmental environment for the risky experience of exploring and verbalizing emotions
bullet Supplements the entire recovery process, not the single focus or an end in itself
bullet Communicates acceptance and freedom of expression without fear of rejection
bullet Promotes an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and hopefulness
bullet Maintains a "family" atmosphere into which each individual feels he/she can fit
bullet Has mature, stable leadership, but is not controlled by one or a few dominant individuals
bullet Has definite format for its meetings, not rambling, directionless discussions

How do I find a Christian support group in my area?

There are probably numerous support groups meeting in your local area. The best approach is to contact someone you know who is involved with recovery to ask them about their own experience. Pastors and Christian counselors can also be an excellent source for finding a good referral. It is wise to attend at least two or three meetings before making a commitment to a particular AA meeting or other support group.

bullet Find a Christian support group that is a member of the Christian Recovery Coalition by clicking the Local Groups button.
bullet Use the online directory of Christian support groups from the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions to learn how to find a group meeting in your area.
bullet If you do not have a Christian group your your area, you might consider becoming involved with one that it not specifically Christian. Most that use the 12 Steps still emphasize the importance of spiritual growth in the recovery process.

John Wesley's Small Group Rules

In the early days of the Methodist Church, members were expected to agree to six common disciplines or "Rules" found in The Works of John Wesley (1816)

  1. To meet once a week, at least.
  2. To come together at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought or deed and the temptations we have felt since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer suited to the state of each person.
  6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

 
The above was adapted from A Guide to Effective Rescue Mission Recovery Programs by Michael Liimatta, Director of Education for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. Used by permission of the author.