The first thing we must address here is, what kind of small group/Christ-centered community are we talking about? The kind that meet together once a week or two, discuss topics over coffee and snacks, and whose primary function is for its members to get their “spiritual food” for the week? If this is the kind you hope for, then I’d recommend this first method for keeping conflict from ruining your small group…
If you want this type of small group to survive, make sure the atmosphere and content of your meetings stays in social space. What does that mean? Don’t let the small group’s interaction get too personal/intimate. Keep it very mechanical. Come prepared with what to talk about and stick to the program.
Talk about your general thoughts about spiritual topics and the surface-y things about your lives. Don’t interact outside of the meetings. If relationships start to develop, make sure you set boundaries that won’t let them progress past a certain point. Keeping your small group and the people in it a compartmentalized part of your life helps here.
Don’t try and make decisions together by consensus. Assign a person to direct the group and make decisions for it. If you disagree with their decisions or the group starts getting too personal/intimate, leave as soon as you can and find another group that won’t go there. You’re looking for something that aligns more with an individualistic mindset, so leave before conflict arises and your departure is messy. Your presence is just going to ruin what the group is trying to do.
Although you can probably sense a bit of sarcasm in what I’m saying here, it really IS good advice. For many people, they really don’t desire close-knit Christ-centered community where your purpose and lives become intertwined over time. They want more of a social club – a place to go to feed the social/spiritual compartment of their lives at regular intervals. Or they want an emotional club – a place to go while people listen to them unload the emotions they feel.
If this is the case, the best thing we can do together is recognize it and react accordingly. I would never tell a Christian who was serious about growing in Christ to avoid conflict, keep things at a social level and leave if relationships started growing. But for some, this is what they want their “Christian life” to be. If that’s the case, it’s best to just avoid small groups where this isn’t the case.
But, if what you hope for is something that will grow into Christ-centered community, then…