Stephen Downes in his article “The Group Feeling” (http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2006/10/that-group-feeling.html ) so powerfully articulates some of the benefits and perils of groups.
Here is an example of why I hate groups. My grade 9 son has awesome bright, long red hair that he loves. It’s his trademark and even his identity. On this past weekend a group of cool kids dared him to shave his head bald to fit in with their group – and he did it. As Stephen mentioned in the above article, many people will risk a lot to belong to a group, and there is a price (and sometimes a high one) to be paid for joining.
However, I also love groups and am personally involved in a fairly unique experience. A group of close friends from our church and I are trying to replicate a wee bit of the community created by first century Christians, in a 21st century urban dweller fashion. We try to create an informal community by doing some group activities together and helping one another out. So, we meet one evening per week to talk, learn and pray together, and we take on community projects – serving at a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park together. We also hang out socially a couple of times per year (bowling, cards, hiking, or whatever) and go camping once per year. And, we help each other as best we can when bad situations occur in our lives. It is quite informal; and people get involved with some, all or none of the activities and come and go as they like and suits their needs. We have a lot of fun. A lot of the people in our group are not connected in community otherwise and love being in a group that cares about them. When something bad happens, these friends are some of the first people I’d call. It doesn't really have a leader, we are just friends walking together. This group has been a blessing not a burden (I like that terminology from Stephen's article).
I agree with Stephen’s assessment that “groups are based on passion while networks are based on reason”. And that you’ve got to carefully watch the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy groups.