If you have missed any of the previous discussion (I do mean discussion a lot of people have weighed in with great comments, check them out) you can look at the links below to get caught up.
The State of Small Groups Overview
The State of Small Groups Part 2
The State of Small Groups Part 3
Not everything about small groups is negative. Being a glass half empty guy I often run to the negative side of things and forget to talk about the positives. Well, I have saved the best for the last, the top of glass if you will….A redefinition of small groups can lead to a redefinition of community.
I have mentioned before that some of the best small groups that I have ever been apart of have come outside of the church. There are several groups that I have had the privilege to take part in. In high school I was in a small group of guys (there was about 8 or 9 of us) that were together each and every day. We challenged each other doctrinally, personally, and spiritually and grew together as a group of high school seniors. I have been apart of a small group in college that would meet on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at McDonalds to just hang out and talk about life (no these guys were not the old men in the corner talking about cars and gardening, though I wish I was in that group). I have been apart of a small group that meets regularly on blogs, discussing different issues in technology, life, and leadership.
All of these groups are very very different, but all have something in common….they are not forced.
If the church could capture the way groups form it would change the way church’s form small groups. Most small groups form from a sign up sheet, by location, and occasionally by mutual acquaintance. Usually these groups are put together by a third party, given the material to talk about, and then expected to figure it out from there. The problem seems to be that they are doomed from the start.
What made the group in high school so great was we had spent the last four years together. Learning about each other, having fun, getting in trouble etc…we were ready to grow and to move beyond our childish ways and grow into adulthood. It took us several years to get past a shallow level and into a deep and committed relationship, but it was necessary. Groups take time to come together, they cannot be forged on a piece of paper or made up by location, they form out of circumstance, out of a challenge, out of a common goal or mission.
In Donald Millers latest book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” he talks about the chance to bike across the country to raise money to build wells in Africa. What struck me the most about his retelling of the story was the community that happened inside of this trip. Here were six or seven guys coming together, had never met before, and were now suppose to ride across the country on a bike. What started out as very awkward and clumsy situation turned into a bond of brotherhood that they will never forget. Miller talks about how they knew what it meant when the other talked about being sore, that they felt each others pain, listened to each others stories about their lives, and had the chance to see each other at their worst moments and their greatest moments. If the church could figure out how to capture the way groups naturally form, things would be different.
“Anyone else have something they would like to share.” This seems to be the common thing uttered at small groups. The awkward silence, the looking around the room, the group leader reading straight out of the book and then asking for answers. I just imagine an outsider looking through the window thinking that these people must be torchering themselves. I mean why would individuals come together and just give answers to questions about why sinning is wrong? One thing that I think would help these times of small group would be to instead of studying a Bible passage, study each other. No I am not talking about sitting there and staring at each other, I am talking about getting to know people. Take a month or two to just become friends. Learn about where someone works, learn their name, but take time to learn about each other. What I have found, in this time of learning about each other there is a natural conversation about God and what He is teaching you and others. Usually when you marry someone you do not talk for five minutes and then say I do. You take time to get to know them, hear their story, and learn what their middle name is. So why would you try and form a community group withouth learning who everyone is? The small group that I am involved with seems to go straight to talking about God and never talks about who we are. To be honest, I know three peoples names in my group. The only time I ever heard them was when I walked into the room for the first time and was introduced. It seems like we turn small group time into a very formal conversation about God time.
If small groups continue to get away from community it just turns into a Bible study. I have nothing against Bible studies, but they are not small groups. One has a very intentional goal of studying something, the other has a very broad goal of coming together and talking about life. In the end, if small groups continue to be treated like red headed step children of the church, the community will be singing songs about the sun coming out tomorrow and how it is a hard knock life for us. If we continue to rely on small groups to start and bring community to the church but continue to do small groups the same way we have been doing them for the last 15 years community will always be stuck on the surface.
Enough from me, how about you?