What’s Different About Our New Church?
Disclaimer: I use a lot of Christian jargon so any word or phrase with a * after it I define down at the bottom.
I never liked small groups*. I don’t think I ever have. I’ve tried to attend a few but they never work. I’ve tried to lead them, but the same thing. I just don’t like them. Most of my friends who are pastors don’t attend or lead small groups either. I needed to figure out why.
In the early stages of inviting people to the church I kept saying we would start off with a small group. It’s the thing to do. But something kept annoying me about saying that. Why would I start with something I don’t even like? I had to get to the bottom of my feelings, and figure out a couple of things: if we weren’t going to do small groups, then what would we do? And what is it about them I don’t like?
WHY I DON’T LIKE SMALL GROUPS
Let’s answer that second question first. Small groups are supposed to accomplish two things: community and discipleship*. I noticed, in many cases, they do both of those poorly. Most small groups are structured around 90 minute sessions. You enter and greet. You sit in a circle. You maybe sing a song for a few and read a passage. Then, you hear a mini sermon or have a discussion. And boom, all done, say goodbye, get out, see you next week. (Or maybe next month).
Most people don’t form strong bonds seeing each other for 90 minutes twice or so a month. Community is shaped on much deeper levels. There is chaos and hurt in true community. There is incredible joy and partnership. Those things just do not happen in 90 minute pre-planned sessions.
Discipleship is another story. When you ask most pastors how discipleship is going they will spit out their small group stats like, “We have 85% small group attendance.” In reality, small group attendance does not assume discipleship. It’s been proven in several cases, but most notably in Willow Creek Community Church’s “Reveal” case study. When I think about my own story of discipleship I cannot think of one small group experience. I think of going over people’s houses, prayer meetings, dinners, missions trips, tough conversations, and people who spent time with me.
So what is it that I don’t like about small groups? It’s the false sense of security it gives that community and discipleship are happening on a grand scale at your church. They may work for some, but it’s just not been my story or the story of people around me.
What’s my answer to this? Party time! Okay, that’s only half the answer. What we are going to do is rip apart the small group. The two fold purpose of community and discipleship will now be done differently. For community, we will party. For discipleship, we will invite.
When I think of having a great time with people I think of having fun, food, and fantastic prayer and worship (sorry I needed to get my third F in there). Showing up at a friends house to hang out in good company with no time limit set on my visit is the best. I go home feeling full, and need to read a book since I’m an introvert and we are weird like that. So every night we want to have a dinner party in the neighborhood. No RSVP needed. No 90 minute time limit. Lots of food and fun. And a time for us to center ourselves on God. All my best friendships have sustained themselves through the years with times like these. I want to share this with people in a city that’s so big, but still so lonely.
Discipleship is another story. It’s an invitation. An invitation one person makes to another to be a part of their life. Whether it’s someone asking to be discipled or the other way around. It’s much deeper than a 90 minute hang out with 15 other people a few times a month. The people that have discipled me have been people I lived with, people that know my darkest moments, and people that have celebrated my greatest joys.
I want to see a culture of invitations. Where people constantly invite others to take a deeper role in their life. The Bible is full of analogies of how God uses others to help us grow up. I am convinced that the Christian life is impossible to walk through alone. We need people that are willing to give selflessly of their time and lives to others. People who will invite others into the messiness of their home without shame. And allow others to peek into the life behind the Instagram perfection. How do I raise a kid? How do I stop an addiction? Can you help me pray? These are just some of the questions that start to get asked and answered when true discipleship happens.
No, we won’t be doing small groups. But we will be doing life together, and that’s a lot more fun.
*Discipleship: when someone mentors someone else in the Christian belief and way of life, sharing who they are with that person to get a practical look at what it means to be a Christian in our day and age.
*Small groups: generally weekly meetings that churches have during the week to debrief the sermon, worship, and pray together. They last 60 – 90 minutes and are a method used in most churches in America.