“Our small group is so healthy and connected this spring.” These words slipped from my mouth as my wife, boys, and I climbed into our car on a recent Wednesday evening. I seem to be saying something similar to these words more and more as the years go by in ministry. If you have known me/followed me for any length of time, you are well aware of my intensifying affinity for the small group model of ministry to which we have been patiently building now at North Life Baptist Church for several years. To some it may seem like our ministry unnecessarily “harps” on it, but here are a few secrets that we have stumbled upon that have convinced us that we cannot overdue it on this front:
- You will likely feel most strongly “for” small groups right afterwards not beforehand. (It never ceases to amaze me how often my heart is full in a way that I am prone to forget in a week until after an hour with other dear believers.)
- Being authentic and vulnerable with a handful of others comes much easier than you can possibly imagine…if you will but give it an honest try. (It often happens within the initial gathering…a few moments after the first person takes the lead on “getting real” with a tear in their eye or tremor in their voice.)
- For them to thrive, you cannot get stuck on one rigid format that somebody else said would work; be willing to repeatedly pivot and iterate it into a form that best suits your flock and even individual groups. (One of the biggest considerations for those with younger families is how to handle childcare/youth programs. This has led us, after trying in the homes for quite while, to land on meeting in the church building with parallel youth programs that require minimal adult staffing.)
- Nothing adds “shelf life” to the sermons and worship in your church services like processing them together several days afterwards. (They, when done as sermon-based, do not undercut but expand the pulpit ministry of the local church.)
- While they may look a little different on the how and when, small groups are for every life stage from the primary aged student to the senior saint…no exceptions. (We are getting ready to fully integrate this model into our teen ministry right now.)
- Your leadership team with their wives desperately need to be in a “one of” instead of “over something” setting (Not as leader but just participants with peers for encouragement and accountability that is difficult for them to find otherwise).
- It is much less about WHAT book or Scripture is studied and much more about with WHOM it is shared.
- Burdens are uniquely lightened and joys sweetened when shared weekly within the safe, sanctifying space of smaller community.
- Sitting in smaller circles will always be more regularly and personally life-giving than sitting in larger rows.
- It’s not “crazy” but truly “Christian” to now and then shed tears of laughter and brokenness within the same three minute timeframe.
- The authentic, warm, dynamic spirit in your entire church is primarily sustained by those who foster it in themselves as small group members.
- There are crazy thoughts, persistent fears, and unresolved grief that can only be properly processed in this setting.
- There will always be good people who don’t “get” or cannot/will not attend small groups; you don’t have to allow their valid absence or willful holdout to taint the interactions of those who do gather. (It is less about the quantity of those of your church family involved and more about the quality of the community happening in that gatherings of those who buy in. We are finding that a persistent focus upon the second priority will eventually produce the first.)
- Almost everything God has every done that was meaningful and enduring began with a small group of concerned citizens in His Kingdom.
- Very quickly you catch on that there are others who regularly need to lean into your fellowship and edification to survive their dysfunctional families, caustic work environments, perpetual loneliness, and chronic health challenges. (Small groups is not primarily about your needs or preferences; they are about “considering one another.”)
- The longer you have a part in them, the more you realize that God is not working today through grandiose schemes or activist mobs but through small huddles of consecrated, authentic believers.
Far too much of our post-modern tendency to assign value to only large movements and gatherings is grossly out of step with the Christianity found in the New Testament. Could what your heart, home, and church be lacking is the result of that fact that you have missed the little-known, often overlooked secret joys and blessings of truly belonging to a small group? God’s people have always, in this fallen world, been in the minority. It should be our badge of honor, not the regrettable plight to which we must disassociate with or resign ourselves. We are in good company every time we gather as the faithful remnant, no matter the size, of our soon coming Lord. Heaven-sent revival and renewal will almost always start in a context that is much, much smaller than you think.
Ezra 9:8 “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.”