Some might think I spend a disproportionate amount of time with a small group of people each week when compared to the rest of the people of the congregation I serve.
I suppose that would be a fair critique. I do spend 7:00-8:30 a.m. with the same four to ten people every Wednesday morning. We gather for breakfast (most of the time at church, but we are making a renewed effort to meet in a public place the first Wednesday of the month), catch up on each other’s lives, read the scripture passages we will read in worship Sunday morning, discuss them, pray for our concerns and people in our community and “go in peace” as we leave to go about the rest of our day (and week).
There are some great things about small groups.
1. It meets frequently.
Each Wednesday might be too often for many people, but like other activities it gives a little structure to my week. As both a pastor and as a dad I feel like my schedule changes each day and each week. I often feel like I’m running in a hundred different directions. This Wednesday breakfast group provides an anchor in a sea of crashing waves with so many other moving parts. I look forward to meeting.
2. A small group can dig deeper than a big group is able to do.
It’s great to see people at church, and as a pastor I’ve always enjoyed gathering for worship and classes offered on Sunday mornings. But a small group offers the intimacy to explore questions and hear stories that would distract from the larger gathering when the discussions are planned or sermons are delivered. Small groups offer genuine two-way conversation that the Sunday morning format is not designed to do.
3. I enjoy the insights of real people.
I also participate in a pastor group each week that also studies the upcoming scripture passages for Sunday, but that is a different kind of conversation. I want to hear what my people are thinking about. I hope to understand what questions and struggles they face. I want to listen to their initial reactions to scripture. I want to listen to who they are praying for and join them. I want to know how they interface current events and how they apply their faith in their lives. I do personal study and I read commentaries written by scholars too, but I have always found these kind of discussions more helpful as I plan for what I prepare to share what I’ve learned on Sunday mornings.
4. Friendships are made.
Through the course of breakfast and discussion each week people get to know each other on a deeper level than Sunday coffee after church. I think I’m pretty good at making friends quickly but there is something about being together over time that connects people in a more meaningful way. There are lots of ways to encourage being together intentionally over time. A small group is one way. Support is given and vulnerabilities are shared, not as a function of the church, but because people genuinely care about each other. I care about these people and they care about me – not
just because I’m pastor, but because I’m Geoff too. I want to be part of a group like that.
5. I like to eat. Don’t you?
Jesus ate and taught around the table often. The table is a natural place for people to engage one another – to nourish both body and soul. I’m pretty sure that’s at least one good reason Jesus gave us the Eucharist – to nourish both and soul in community and communion with him. In our “eat and run” world we have forgotten this, and could really use to relearn it. Each Wednesday this little breakfast group has the opportunity to meet Jesus at the table as he meets us there again.
If you are not part of a small group – join one or start a new one. We have a few at St. Paul – the breakfast club just happens to be one of them. But they are relatively easy to start by taking a little initiative.
Here is one way to start a small group:
- Invite a friend or two, pick a time and place to meet, and encourage them to invite a friend or two and you have a small group. (Invite a couple of non-church friends, like a neighbor or coworker, just don’t dupe anyone – be clear about what you’re doing and why).
- Gather over food or a beverage or both.
- Follow an easy format like the Faith 5 (Thanks Rich Melheim and the Faith Inkubators team! http://www.faithink.com/inkubators/f5.asp):
1. Give everyone an opportunity to SHARE (while also providing the opportunity to pass if they don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable). Small talk will even suffice for a time, just plan some time for people to interact naturally. If the group is new, you could even pick an icebreaker it trigger conversation. To really share, invite people to give a “high” and “low” from their week. 2. READ something. You could discuss a book, topic, whatever. If you want to read scripture you could either pick a book of the Bible and read through a short section each time; or if you want to engage what your church is going to read Sunday – ask your pastor what the reading for the coming week is going to be. Our church usually follows the Revised Common Lectionary which can easily be looked up (online available: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/ ). 3. TALK. Give people an opportunity to react to the text. Ask questions. Go on tangents. Explore. Look things up. Don’t have all the answers, and value people’s input. Relate the text to everyday life or what you see going on around you. Get the idea? 4. PRAY. Ask for names. Name names. Get to know each other by what’s on each other’s hearts. You don’t have to be eloquent – just try. 5. BLESS. Tell each other to “go in peace” (or its equivalent) as you part ways.
- Before parting ways, make plans for where and when you’ll meet next. However frequent or infrequent you meet – be consistent. If you gather once a month try to do it the same day and time each month.
- Think about who else you might invite to the group. If it starts to feel too big, split the group. Try to remain open – groups tend to get clicky or closed to outsiders when they are not intentional about welcoming new people. Churches as a whole can feel like that too. Starting a small group is one way to help open things up.
You are welcome to join our group for breakfast. We meet at 7:00 Wednesday mornings at St. Paul Lutheran Church on 56 Great Hammock Road in the classroom by the kitchen, except on the first Wednesday when we meet at the Parthenon Diner here in Old Saybrook at 809 Boston Post Road.
As (Jesus) went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand. (Mark 6:34-44)