By Anna Lynne Frazier
One of the most significant tools God gives us to help us be more like Jesus is Christian community. Enter: small groups. Small groups give us pockets of people seeking to encourage, challenge, and spur one another on in our ultimate goal of walking in the way of Jesus.
There’s just one problem: small groups are messy. They’re imperfect spaces full of imperfect people. Nothing is more disheartening than joining a small group, hoping for all of the wonderful benefits of Christian community, then being bogged down by the messy parts.
The truth is that small groups take work. But where to start? Below you’ll find three things that may be killing your small group (along with some ways that you can save it).
1. Staying Surface-Level
The reality is, not everyone in your small group will be in the same place spiritually. Some will have been walking with Jesus for a long time, others might not have picked up their Bible on their own in years. Having people at different levels of spiritual maturity is good thing. It reflects the real, messy church that’s full of people in process. However, the temptation is often to keep conversation at a surface-level that feels comfortable for everyone. It’s one thing to talk about the work drama of the week, and another thing to share the specific sin areas in your life that made work-week hard. Staying surface-level is dangerous when it stops your group from going deeper and growing together.
How to save it: Lead the way. You can invite everyone to get deeper by going first. Be vulnerable about areas of sin and struggle. Redirect the conversation to cool things God’s been doing this week, then ask others to share too. Show up with hard questions you’re wrestling with and put them before the group. You can set the tone you want your group to have. It may take a few weeks, but others will follow. After all, they want the same deep connections that you do…that’s why they joined the group in the first place!
2. Making Your Group About You
Ask yourself why you joined your small group in the first place. For a lot of us, we think something along the lines of: “I joined a small group because I want to grow spiritually.” If we’re honest, the implicit follow-up to that is: “…So if I’m not growing, then this group isn’t giving me what I need.” (I put some keywords in bold to help you see where I’m going with this…) Human beings are self-centered. It’s a product of the Fall. On top of that, we live in a highly consumeristic society. Every decision we make is filtered through the lens of “what is best for me?” This means it’s tough to turn off that self-centered, consumer mindset. And our expectations for small group get skewed.
The reality is, your two-hour small group meeting isn’t going to change your life. The people in your group aren’t going to fix your faith. Your life and faith are the cumulation of decisions you make and priorities you set all the time. Instead, that weekly time together with your small group is supposed to orient and encourage you to continue in the way of Jesus for the rest of the week.
How to save it: Take yourself out of the center of your small group. How do you define “growing spiritually”? When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus said: love God and love others. When we focus on ourselves first, this God and other-centered love becomes impossible. So the best way for you to “grow spiritually” at small group is to ask yourself, “How can I use this time to love God and others (both in the group and in your daily life outside of the group)?”
3. Looking Inward, Not Outward
Jesus’s ministry involved rubbing shoulders with people who were not like him. He did this in order to show them the love of his father and to invite them to follow him. And his “small group” (the twelve disciples) did this work with him. Sure, they spent time together eating and drinking, discussing the hows and whys of their mission, and diving into the Word. But these inward things didn’t define their group, it enabled their outward ministry. Is your small group a group that Jesus would want to join? Is your small group doing both the inward and the outward? Being a Christian is about following Jesus. Walking in the way that he shows us. We cannot do this when we focus solely on our inward, church community, neglecting the people Jesus cared most about.
How to save it: Serve people who don’t look or think like you. Get out into the community together to show people the love of the Father and invite them to follow him too. Encourage one another during your time together toward the ministry opportunities in your daily lives. Pray for each other’s non-Christian co-workers, friends and family. Do ministry with one another.
Need some ways that your small group can do more ministry together? Check out some of our serving opportunities below.