Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

"A Cord of Three Strands Is Not Easily ': An Empirical Investigation of Attachment-Based Small Group Functioning in the Christian Church

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

"A Cord of Three Strands Is Not Easily ': An Empirical Investigation of Attachment-Based Small Group Functioning in the Christian Church

Article excerpt

In this study, the authors explored the relationship between adult attachment, church-based small group attachment, psychological functioning, faith maturity, God attachment, and Christian orthodoxy among a sample of Christian adults in Southern California (N = 138). The authors hypothesized that insecure church-based small group attachment would be positively associated with psychological maladjustment and insecure God attachment, and negatively associated with faith maturity and Christian orthodoxy, after controlling for insecure adult attachment. Findings partially supported the proposed hypotheses, revealing a positive association between anxious church-based small group attachment and anxiety-related symptoms, after controlling for anxious adult attachment. Moreover, anxious and avoidant church-based small group attachment was negatively associated with vertical faith maturity, after controlling for anxious and avoidant adult attachment. Finally, anxious and avoidant church-based small group attachment was positively associated with anxious and avoidant God attachment, after controlling for anxious and avoidant adult attachment. Recommendations for future research are provided, as are suggestions for small group leaders to utilize attachment theory to cultivate securely attached small groups within the Christian church.

Within the contemporary Christian church, community is heavily emphasized and encouraged. Drawing from the Acts of the Apostles, Christians are to, among other things, fellowship with one another, disciple one another, minister to those in need, evangelize, and worship together (Gladen, 2011). As the writer of Acts revealed, "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them" (4:32-34). One vehicle through which these community-based Christian principles can be implemented is a church-affiliated small group.

Church-Based Small Groups

Writing for a lay audience, Donahue (2002) defined the mission of a small group as follows:

To connect people into groups of four to ten who come together on a regular basis for a common purpose and are led by an identified leader who is assisting them in their progress toward full devotion to Christ by intentionally providing an environment for connection, community, and spiritual formation. (p. 21)

Although empirical research is generally lacking regarding the specific ingredients of small groups and what allows church-based groups to grow, Egli and Marable (2011) recently published a book for a lay audience with a survey of more than 3,000 small group leaders from over 200 churches, elucidating a range of factors that promote health and growth. Although the authors found no link between marital status, age, personality, or educational level and small group growth, the survey highlighted that small group growth is related to, among other factors, a higher frequency of prayer, more time in relationship with God, and encouraging and promoting caring relationships (e.g., cultivating a family-like environment that involves praying for each other and investing time in small group relationships outside of formal meetings). In fact, the authors' survey revealed that groups that scored higher on Care, i.e., loving one another and treating each other like a family, were more likely to add members to the group; whereas those who scored lower on Care had a smaller growth rate.

In the last decade, the small group literature has steadily risen, placing a heavy emphasis on relational functioning in the church. This literature is typically written for lay audiences and grounded in scripture, including the book of Acts. In particular, several authors from evangelical mega-churches in the United States have published popular books on small groups, highlighting core principles for developing healthy small group functioning, such as offering support and encouragement, fostering an ideal environment to become more like Christ, and implementing strategies to share the gospel message with others (Donahue, 2002; Gladen, 2011; House, 2011; Stanley & Willits, 2004). …

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