Maybe you think being in a small group is like being part of the cast of Friends…except all of your friends live for Jesus. Good for you!
Perhaps you can’t help but love the picture painted in Acts 2 of the believers in the early church—having everything in common—sharing everything—eating together all the time in all the homes. Wonderful!
Maybe you wish every night was the night you could talk about your feelings in the living room of someone whose first name you only recently became convinced you pronounce correctly. I’m really trying to feel happy for you, because that hasn’t been my experience.
Sometimes the idea of “small groups” isn’t my most favorite thing.
Honestly, Acts 2 does sound nice to me. My hang-up with what I call “organized intimacy” sounds a little like, “Why can’t I choose the people I’m going to break bread and do life with naturally? Why do I have to go to a stranger’s house and answer intimate questions with a group of people who have nothing in common?”
Here are four reasons why I fight that thought pattern and stay actively involved in a small group, and why you should too, if you’re anything like me.
1. We DO have something in common.
Often, the richest, most beautiful Christ-centered relationships are forged between people with only one thing in common. Jesus is the uniting factor. Your group may contain a smorgasbord of personalities, career paths, and senses of humor, but truly, you’ve got everything in common, because in the life of a Christian, Jesus is everything.
It’s refreshing and beautiful to connect on a spiritual level when you know it’s the only level you might connect on. A direct and funny friend of my husband used to say all the time, “If it weren’t for Jesus, I’d never be friends with you.” We’d laugh at the truth in his statement. Alex and my husband do not share much of anything in common, but their love for Jesus caused them to love each other.
I sometimes fear the idea of forced spiritual intimacy, but the longer I’ve walked in obedience by being in small groups, the more I’ve seen the beauty that comes from a group of diverse people speaking the gospel into each others’ lives. Even for someone with a skeptical bent like me, Christ-centered community is life-altering and life-giving.
2. Spiritual intimacy rarely happens by accident.
A small group has many purposes—one of which is to create an environment of intentional Jesus-seeking with other believers. You may have a blast with the lady you exchanged numbers with at Chick-fil-A or the guy who works out on the elliptical next to you at the Y every day, but having conversations about the gospel or confessing sin doesn’t just happen when you’re shooting the breeze.
In a small group, everyone knows why they are there, and while you might have fun together and share more trivial commonalities, you should all be there with the hope that iron will sharpen iron (Prov. 27:17).
3. Suffering together beats suffering alone.
In 2010, I suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which basically means my body was exploding organs rather than making a baby like it was supposed to. Depressed, depleted, and definitely not wanting to hang out with anyone, I avoided human contact and clung to reruns of House. My faith was weak. I wasn’t experiencing the “peace that surpasses understanding” from Philippians 4:7, and I turned from God, rather than turning to Him. But while I wallowed in darkness, something cool happened. My church and my small group, which I kept at arm’s distance, showed up. They started bringing me meals. They texted me and called me to see if I was okay. One family FASTED for ME. One of them paid for me to go to Christian counseling. Just typing this out makes me cry. When I was tempted to turn from God, they poured God’s love into me and showed me His goodness.
Once you find your small group, you’ve found the people you can do life with. These can be your go-to people who come through when you hurt. These are the people who pray about your ominous doctor’s appointment. They’re the people who serve you after you have surgery. They’re the people who speak God’s truth into your life. And in turn, God uses you in their lives, too. It’s amazing how unburdensome the “burden” of Christ-centered relationships is.
A healthy small group isn’t a place for awkward, stilted, churchy conversations. It’s a place for loving community, freeing accountability, and steady growth spurred on by other regular people who know Jesus. If you can fight against your cynicism long enough to give small groups a chance, you will get to see God work in your life and in the lives of others in a way that is so worth any awkwardness that might come with it.
Scarlet Hiltibidal is a writer living in Nashville, TN. Scarlet has a degree in biblical counseling and worked as a Christian schoolteacher before she started writing. She has written for and managed various online publications. Currently, she writes children’s small group curriculum and articles on motherhood for Smart Mom. Scarlet is wife to Brandon, who is part of the Groups Ministry Team at Lifeway, and Mommy to her daughters, Ever Grace and Brooklyn Hope. Visit her blog at scarlethiltibidal.com and follow her on Twitter @ScarletEH.