I’ve been involved in small group ministry for about 15 years. I’ve led them, attended them, and run from them. Many times, people attend small groups out of religious duty or because they feel it’s what they’re supposed to do to be more spiritual. But even more times, they are really trying to make it work because they long for more connection than a few minutes during the church worship service.
My wife and I started a second service at our church and discovered a core of people who became our team. At this time in our life and ministry, this is our small group. This past Sunday, we had a suggestion box for people to write what they wanted to see happen or taught in the coming year. The overwhelming majority of comments had to do with more interaction with people during the week. Wow! Small groups!
So here’s my resolution list as small group leader:
1. I will be real. No one likes a phony even when it’s not intended. If you had a bad week, it’s okay as a leader to tell people you had a bad week. You don’t have to divulge all your skeletons at the first potluck, but it’s good to be honest. If you are, others feel free to let down their guard, too. This is how friendships move beyond the surface, and people begin to enjoy spending time together.
2. I will be messy. From being real comes messy. There might be tears. That’s okay. God created us out of dirt (messy), Jesus was born in a manger (messy), and from Jesus being a carpenter to putting mud in the eyes of a blind man, to dying in the way He did, it seems that God likes “messy.”
3. I will put my small group in position to create communitas. From sociologist Victor Turner, who coined the word: “Communitas is an intense community, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness.” Here’s the tricky thing: We can’t manufacture this. Remember the youth group trip when the bus broke down and you all had to push the bus to the nearest off-ramp? We can’t deliberately break the bus (well, we could, but…). We can take risks with our small groups. Put them in position to create those kinds of moments. Your small group doesn’t have to go to China, but it could raise money to send Bibles to China. You don’t have to play in the NFL, but how about doing a high-ropes course together then discussing how your relationships have grown through that experience?
4. I will not settle for being just a social group. Communitas in the Kingdom of God needs to be outwardly focused. God expands His Kingdom on earth by using His Body–you and m. That doesn’t mean do only outreach; it does mean that as you build intense community, you are always reaching out. Maybe someone has a brother who needs to connect–invite him in. Maybe you go out to eat and tip more than the meal. Maybe you find a homeless man and not just give money but sit and talk a while. This doesn’t have to be every week or even during your meeting time, but these occurrences should be a regular part of your small group’s life.