We have been in Canada for two years at the end of this month and in Calgary for eighteen months. When we arrived from Europe, we were living with my brother-in-law and his wife in community. We took it in turns to cook meals and enjoyed long and sometimes deep discussions over the meal table. Over the next six months we met a lot of people but our community didn’t really expand. In moving to Calgary, a similar scenario emerged, this time with our daughter and her family who live just three minutes away. Developing a sense of community though seems to take time. In our transitory world today, how many of us live in real community? How do you respond to the term community? Are you part of one? And if you are, how does that community function and express itself?
I have the belief that for community to really function it requires some kind of small group where we can share our lives and connect at an ever-deepening level. During this last year or so of transition into Calgary, I intentionally reached out for connections and relationships. I have become a member of a great church, been joined by my son and his fiancé, who are living with us, joined a band at church playing keyboard, which has connected me with other musicians, started a home group with ten others joining us and begun to connect with events in our neighbourhood.
Andy Stanley, in his book, ‘creating community’, shares some great principles of small groups and I will share a few below. He had an experience of going into Starbucks one day where he read a card that said, ‘create community. Make a difference in someone’s day.’ It’s interesting to note that Starbucks sees itself doing more than just making coffee. Starbucks sees part of its corporate purpose is to create environments that connect people so meaningfully that it changes the quality of their lives!
I find it helpful to bring some structure and intentionality to my life otherwise my friendships would be random and unstructured. George Gallup has said, ‘Americans are among the loneliest people in the world.’ And pastors can be a lonely people group, who themselves are often missing out on small groups, even if they are happening in their churches. You can work in a big ministry, work out in a gym, go to a large church with people all around you and still you feel alone. We can have many acquaintances but not really be known by anyone.
When God made humans, he recognised that they weren’t complete on their own. He made us with a human shaped void that even he can’t fill. We aren’t made to live alone; we are made to live in community.
Why groups? Large groups are great for corporate worship, casting vision, sharing teaching, and creating an atmosphere of faith. It’s in the large group that we recognise how big our family is. But the small group is where we connect, where we can apply the teaching that we have heard or develop the interest that we have formed the group around. It’s here in the small group that we can become more intimate and be vulnerable about where we are at, what is taking place in our lives and receive the encouragement, challenge, and comfort that we so need.
Closed groups: Andy Stanley encourages ‘closed groups’ in his church in North Point Community church Atlanta. What he means by that is, when a group comes together, after an initial trial period, the group commits for the next 18-24 months without others being added in. Eldridge says, ‘You can’t just throw a random group of people together for a twelve-week study of some kind and expect them to become intimate allies. A group needs to be allowed to experience relational momentum.’
Authentic community involves the ABC of group life – accountability, belonging and care.
- Accountability means inviting others into your life to challenge and stimulate you.
- A sense of Belonging or feeling accepted, connected, and comfortable, takes time.
- Caring for one another comes from the first two aspects – your lives become intwined and you communicate what is going on, the good and the difficult, and you are able to reach out to help others or receive help yourself.
Growth: a main aim of any small group is growth – in your personal development of character and competencies, in your spiritual development of intimacy with God and your sense of calling and in relationship with others.
Leadership of small groups: A person who leads a small group has five areas of responsibility:
- Be connected – whether the groups are part of a church, an organisation or friendship groups, it’s important to stay in tune with their goals and values if they have them – and if not create some yourselves.
- Have character – the number one quality employees are looking for in their leaders is integrity and it’s no different in a small group. If people know you are honest and sincere, they will be able to trust you and respect your leadership.
- Embrace the culture – understands the culture or cultures you are working with and how to greet and meet and go deeper in relationship. It’s helpful to know the speed of growth and development and how quickly you can integrate new ideas and customs into the group.
- Good chemistry – this is seen clearly when there is a flow of communication, and a bonding takes place easily. Good chemistry happens when the leader is approachable, relaxed, and welcoming to everyone.
- A level of competence – it takes more than just having a desire to see a group come about, you need a passion and skill to serve, draw people out and create a positive atmosphere for effective connections.
Relationships are like bank accounts: they don’t just happen. They require regular intentional deposits. Create some simple rituals, customs, ways of relating that helps to bond the group.
In our training all over the world, we use small groups everywhere. The leadership team is a small group. And if the leadership team is large, then we break up into smaller staff groups to enable deeper sharing and more time for each individual.
We develop process groups of 4-7 people, where application of the teaching can be discussed and worked through. This is where the rubber meets the road and we come to a personal response to what is being shared. Otherwise, the teaching goes in one ear and out the other and a few days later you have forgotten just about everything that was shared.
Students in schools will benefit from regular small groups and by regular, I mean at least once a week. Staff in YWAM communities or churches need to connect on a regular basis too. If you are leading a student group, you need your own peer group as well.
I am convinced that small groups are a vital part of our growth, development, and responsibility. So, if you aren’t involved in one, do take effort to find one or establish one yourself.
Until next month