State of Small Groups Part 4

Kyle Reed // @kylereed

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 bookA 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?

What do You think?
You have any ideas for small groups?

Kyle

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Kyle Reed

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I create websites, conversations, and ideas. Advocate for the 20 somethings. Looking to connect everyone to a mentor. Married to my best friend, Ginny. I like my coffee black and my dog Jack. I currently live in Nashville and work at Sony Music/Provident in Nashville
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  • http://brionyskerjance.blogspot.com Briony

    Again, I think you hit the nail on the head. What I find funny is that when our church started the whole small groups thing last year, they were sure to underline the fact that this isn't about going deep. That the group isn't about meeting your new best friend, it is about coming together and discussing God's Word and building community. I remember sitting there thinking "isn't that contradicting itself", don't get personal but build community. I know in our situation it was more wanting to avoid group therapy sessions, since that had happen a couple times in the past. The intentions weren't wrong but the application is sorely lacking.

    At the moment the Small Group I am in, is built up of most of my friends. Those that are a little less familiar to me are quite outgoing so it has been easy to get to know them. But your post has definitely challenged me as an individual to really reach out and get to know them. If your post says anything to me, it is that the individual has the ability to make these changes. It only takes one person to get the ball rolling, to break the ice, to be the first one to be vulnerable.

    Side Note: I loved Donald Miller's book, he has a way of being so utterly honest that you yourself become introspective. I read it in a matter of hours, definitely good stuff.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

      I put it this way, I want a small group that I can drink a beer with. What do I mean by that? I want to know my group well enough and be friends just sitting around having a beer and talking. It doesn't obviously center around the beer, but it comes back to knowing your group.

      You are right, it does start with one person….good observation.

      And yes D Miller's book is pretty good. Much like yourself I read it pretty quickly and then realized my story sucked.

      • http://brionyskerjance.blogspot.com Briony

        I get what you mean…although my drink of choice would be coffee. Haha It's being around people that understand you, they may not agree with you or even be in the same state of life as you but they 'get' you. In order to really understand someone you have to know them. Everything else is just based on your opinion or observation.

        The way this applies to small groups is that true community is rooted in intimacy. Not saying we all need to spill our guts but being part of the group is sharing life together. When you share anything with someone, big or small, you are spending yourself. Most groups fail because the only thing we are willing to give is an hour of our time and a couple words here and there.

        As for what Grandpa Reed said below. I agree that coming together to just hang out and shoot the breeze isn't really anything but a club, but we aren't talking about that at all. We are talking about a group of believers that are deciding to come together, that are planning on spending their precious time away from their to do lists to discuss a message, book or scripture.
        I think that our intentions are right…we desire to build relationships and grow in our faith. But the problem is no one is ready to actually jump in and do what it takes to make those two things happen. Or we don't know how. The way we live out our lives, that is our faith in action. So coming together to share about those things is not by any means a club. I also don't think you can blame it all on leadership. You can have the best leader in the world in your group but if you don't have people willing to open their hearts, life, mouths…that leader will flounder like the rest of them.

        Just some thoughts from my end.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Grandpa Reed

    Don't mean to be negative, but a small church group meeting in the home if it is not for prayer and Bible Study is just a club, like the local gun club or ladies quilting bee, focusing on things other than God. Sorry, but give the group a title and call it a club. People join a gun club because they are interested in guns and learning about them from someone who knows a lot about guns.
    I read an article where a preacher was told he was using too much Scripture in his sermon by quoting six verses. He was told to talk more about people's needs and such. A sermon without Scripture is not a sermon, like Granma says, "Pie without sugar is not pie", just as small church groups as you are calling them are just clubs if they don't study the Bible. The reason they are not successful is the people coming are not interested in studying the Scripture and/or poor leadership, in which case they might just as well stay home or join a club.
    Just my point of view,

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

      I would agree with you on the fact that there is poor leadership and in turn can have a club instead of a group. But, we do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I do not want to study the bible with people I do not know. Here is why struggle with that, one person makes an observation that meant something to me and something different to the guy next to me…then the conversation goes a totally different way and the conversation turns from study to opinion. If I am going to a Bible study I expect some bible studying to be going on, commentaries consulted, etc…but small groups center usually around a curriculum or book that the church is following and has questions for the group. I don't disagree with you on the fact that a group can become a club. But, I think naturally inside of conversation about anything it comes back to what God is doing. I feel like I can talk about what is going on with the health care reform and bring it back to God.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

    I would agree with you on the fact that there is poor leadership and in turn can have a club instead of a group. But, we do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I do not want to study the bible with people I do not know. Here is why struggle with that, one person makes an observation that meant something to me and something different to the guy next to me…then the conversation goes a totally different way and the conversation turns from study to opinion. If I am going to a Bible study I expect some bible studying to be going on, commentaries consulted, etc…but small groups center usually around a curriculum or book that the church is following and has questions for the group. I don't disagree with you on the fact that a group can become a club. But, I think naturally inside of conversation about anything it comes back to what God is doing. I feel like I can talk about what is going on with the health care reform and bring it back to God.
    Do you think my blog can be a small group?

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  • Joshua Long

    Not all groups fulfill the same purpose because people are at different places in their spiritual journey. Some people are scared of bible study and would get bored because they have not reached the level of maturity required for bible study. Some have moved beyond the place where bible study alone is enough.

    However, no matter what the group is like, every single group should have this in common: the goal is growth. Growth happens in these 3 areas: intimacy with God, real relationships, and mission. The job of the leader is to shepherd the people God has placed in his care. If this is happening, the rest is details.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

      Great point Josh.
      You are exactly right, growth is the key to community.
      I like the 3 areas you gave as well. thanks for giving those.

  • http://joshuaobserves.wordpress.com Joshua Long

    Not all groups fulfill the same purpose because people are at different places in their spiritual journey. Some people are scared of bible study and would get bored because they have not reached the level of maturity required for bible study. Some have moved beyond the place where bible study alone is enough.

    However, no matter what the group is like, every single group should have this in common: the goal is growth. Growth happens in these 3 areas: intimacy with God, real relationships, and mission. The job of the leader is to shepherd the people God has placed in his care. If this is happening, the rest is details.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/joannamuses joanna

    While i have been in groups put together by a third party and handed material do not that well at all, I've also been in groups that were also put together by a third party and given material that worked wonderfully. I think the factors that make a difference for the groups that made the difference were
    – People actually wanted to be there and weren't under any pressure to get involved. So frustrating when you have to coax along people who would rather be somewhere else.
    – While the group members were diverse in many ways, they had some things other than being Christian in common and there weren't differences that caused personality clashes which can so easily disrail small groups. If people wouldn't click normally shoving them in a room together for 2 hours a week isn't going to help.
    – We did stuff other than small group meetings. Shared meals, played card games, went shopping together even just hung out playing with someones new puppy.