As the Coaching Specialist at Reimagine, I am often asked about using our materials to help build more generous faith communities. Of course the specifics vary, but I want to share with you some helpful tips I have developed in promoting community regardless of your size or demographic.
I didn’t grow up going to church, but I can remember as a teen being invited and walking away feeling loved. It might have been the food. It was a Wednesday night meal, and I’m quite certain the senior saints who prepared it prayed over every ingredient. Or maybe it was the quality of conversation. I can remember sitting around with new acquaintances talking about important truths. Love shown from their eyes as they expressed a genuine care for me and made me feel a part of the family of God…all of these experiences formed my understanding that church was a welcoming place.
Times have changed, and it is increasingly difficult to recreate the welcoming environment I experienced. People move around more and the pace of life is more hectic. So how do we build community (not to mention, generous community!) in our churches—especially when churches can be large and/or uninviting?
Small groups provide a great vehicle for growing community. They allow even large churches to become small by providing a place to know others and be known, but there are few important things to keep in mind in building small groups:
1. Small groups are, by definition, small.
I once had a pastor describe a group of 20 he taught as a small group. That is not a small group! A genuine small group needs to have a cap on the size. When you cap it, the question that always follows is, “What do you do with visitors?” There isn’t an easy solution. I have seen two strategies work well. One is to make groups smaller initially with the intent that they will grow by 2-3 people before they are capped. Another strategy is to begin the group small with the intention of growing it until it can split. When it grows from 6 to 12, all involved have already agreed to split. Neither strategy is perfect, but they are a good place to begin.
2. Small group needs to be a safe place.
It’s important that all the members agree to a code that what happens at group, stays at group.
3. Intimacy grows through consistency.
One time I led a study on marriage and saw attendance throughout the course plummet. The cause? The groups were continually changing so that no one felt safe enough to share. It’s important that groups have a level of commitment that all agree to so that the group doesn’t continually shift with new members.
4. Building deep community takes time and effort.
We need to build the expectation that group attendance isn’t enough. Encourage members to be proactive, meet for coffee, connect via phone or text in between meetings. Get together as couples or families and spend time together outside the walls of our churches.
There is much more to be said about small groups, but for now I want to encourage you. One of the reasons we sell our resources as a package is the great potential small groups provide for life change. Engaging in truth together, sharing life experiences, praying together…this is how we live out Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another…” and it never hurts to share a meal!
by Cami Summers
Cami serves as the Coaching Specialist at Reimagine and has worked with hundreds of churches as they journey towards creating cultures of generosity in their individual communities.