Are you aware that our church is deceptively large? It doesn't feel that big and doesn't look that big, but the truth is we are big enough that it is hard to keep connected to everyone. The pastoral staff regularly talks about how challenging it is to keep up with who is here or who has been missing a few weeks. One of us will think people were not here, but another one will have had the chance to talk with them. On top of that, it can take weeks or months to meet new people that have been attending regularly. And think about how hard it is to learn everyone’s name, let alone to get to know them in a more personal way. These are challenges we must continue to address as the church continues to grow.
For the last 11 years, small groups have been an essential and effective part of Maranatha “Building Relationships to Build Saints.” They have helped us address some of the challenges of connecting with each other. As we get ready to start a new year of small groups, it is important for us to realize as great as our small group ministry is and has been, there are also some very significant dangers that also come along with our small group ministry.
Danger #1: You won’t join a small group
The first danger we should consider is that you won’t join a small group. The danger is in making the mistake of thinking that that you don’t NEED a small group or that a small group doesn’t NEED you.
Now we understand that there may be some legitimate reasons that you have not joined a small group. We want you to know that we are working to help resolve those barriers that have been brought to our attention. For example, next year we will have small groups meeting on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Also, the Clausons are starting a small group where the men and women will meet alternate weeks to help with childcare issues and time demands. We would like to see even more options develop as new leaders begin groups. So, if there is still a barrier that is keeping you from joining a small group (i.e. maybe meeting once a month, meeting at a different time of day - like lunch, or a gender specific group, or anything else we haven’t thought of yet) please let Pastor David know so we can continue to help provide avenues for small group ministry (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Or maybe you already are involved in an ‘unofficial’ small group - a group of people from the church that are helping you to: get connected and cared for, apply God’s Word in your life and serve others. If that is the case, it is wonderful news! Please let Pastor David know about your group so he can find ways to come alongside you and help in whatever ways you may need.
Our desire is for our small groups to be a foundational way our church lives life together: connecting and caring for each other, applying God’s Word in our lives and serving each other, our communities and the world. However, that requires you to join one.
Danger #2: You will join, but you won’t go
The second danger we face from our small groups is that you will join one (because that is what good, faithful people do), but you won’t go. For small groups to really be effective, you must be there. Of course, there are times when emergencies arise and you are providentially hindered from attending. The danger comes from seeing small group as an option in your week. Week in and week out asking, “do I feel like going tonight?” You must be careful about letting your decision to attend or skip become all about you. Somebody else in your small group might NEED you to be there. They might need your encouragement, care, wisdom or embrace. Truthfully, you may even find that what you needed most was to be there as well.
For our small groups to be truly effective, we all need to be committed to join and make faithful attendance a priority.
Danger #3: You will join and go, but you won’t connect
The third danger to be aware of with our small groups is not really connecting with the others in the group. We can make the mistake of thinking that joining and showing up are all it takes for small groups to “work.” Then week after week, we leave thinking, “I didn’t really get anything out of our small group.” Showing up won’t automatically bring about lifechange for you or for others. You must show up and be intentional in connecting. Each member of a small group must come prepared to connect intellectually, emotionally and spiritually with the others. We need to be intentional about sharing our lives, our challenges, our successes, our failures, our needs and our relationship with Jesus. Intimacy and transparency are hard, but we all need real relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ to walk intimately and faithfully with Him. When you show up at small group, you must be prepared to work at relationships by giving and receiving care, accountability and encouragement.
Danger #4: You will join, go and connect, but you won’t leave
The fourth danger our small groups create is an unwillingness to leave. Now staying until all hours of the night after your small group meeting may be a problem, but that is not the unwillingness to leave that we must be on guard against. When we faithfully join, go and connect to a small group, it is terribly hard to leave that group and join another one. You might be immediately saying, “WAIT! We’re supposed to be developing intimate relationships, and now you want us to leave?!? What’s the deal?”
If people are not willing to leave their group, it can cause some real problems too. Groups might get too big. Honestly if the group is larger than 8-12 adults, intimacy is going be sacrificed (unless you are making smaller groups at some point in your small group). There just isn’t enough time for everyone to share their hearts, lives, and struggles as groups get bigger. As a result, it becomes easier for people to “hide” in big “small” groups and that undermines the very purpose of the groups. Groups might also become exclusive or cliquish. There is no room for new people and “we don’t really want them coming in here and messing things up anyway.” Groups might also become stagnant. New people bring new challenges, ideas and excitement. In other words, new people often bring new life to small groups.
Most small group “experts” recommend that the members of a group change every two years. Now, there are several ways this change can be done. You can just intentionally choose to change groups every two years, so you can develop a wider range of intimate relationships at Maranatha. Or we can make small group leaders take a sabbatical that forces everyone to go to new groups. The best option is that the group prepares new leaders, and this allows the group to grow and then split after one or two years and enables new people to join the groups and build new relationships. The multiplication option also creates a way that Maranatha can continue to grow and offer the care and support that our new family members will need.
Danger #5: You will join, go, connect, leave and think it’s enough
The final danger we must seek to avoid is thinking that even if we are doing everything right with our small group that it is enough. Small groups are a foundational way our church lives life together, but it is not the only way we need to live life together. There is a danger in thinking that all our relational and hospitality needs, and responsibilities are met through our weekly small group meetings - many of them are, but not all of them.
As a body member, we must each continue to be prayerfully seeking who of the various people at Maranatha God would have us minister to and in what ways. In what other ways should we open our homes to each other and those in our communities? What other discipling relationships should we be involved in? How should we be connecting with our old friends and our new guests? How do we continue to connect with those people we have built relationships with in the past?
Small groups are essential and effective for helping us “Build Relationships That Build Saints.” However, we must not make the mistake of thinking that they are the only thing needed to build relationships that build saints.
One final plea
As we begin a new year of small groups, PLEASE make it a priority for you and/or your family. Make the New Year’s commitment to join a small group, go to your small group, connect with your small group, and be willing to leave your small group when the time is right. We all NEED you and truthfully - YOU need us.