Summary: People attend small groups because they’re starving for Kingdom community. But, Kingdom community can’t be manufactured. It must be developed. Most small groups never grow into Kingdom communities because they’re never trained in how to do so.
One of the church’s common answers these days to how someone can grow in Christ is “get into a small group.” Finally, we’ve admitted the church service is of little value. In fact, many churches have so totally given up on the church service model that a buzz-phrase that has gone around for a while now among administrators in these types of churches is “We’re not a church with small groups, we’re a church of small groups.”
Basically, people are so totally over church as they know it, even the language that is being used is trying to escape it! There are even books being written about it…
But, is a small group really the answer to growing in Christ? Or is it just the latest fad soon to die out like the rest?
The typical small group meeting
In the typical small group meeting, you’re likely to find some or all of the following parts:
- members that typically see each other the most in weekly or bi-weekly meetings.
- a small group leader who
controlsleads the group in discussion about a spiritual topic.
- a pre-planned spiritual agenda or a curriculum for spiritual guidance.
- the eating of (usually unhealthy) food together.
- icebreaker games to encourage people to get to know each other.
- an expectation of commitment
- common beliefs about life
If and when people dig deep enough, they find that the real reason they attend churches isn’t to sing songs and listen to sermons (although this is what churches are built around). The real reason they attend is because they’re searching to belong to close-knit-organic-body life-Kingdom community. This search is in every Christian’s spiritual DNA. When they aren’t in it, they feel (even unknowingly) that they’re in a wilderness. This is because Kingdom community is a Christian’s home.
The small group is the church’s latest answer to manufacture it. The problem is…community can’t be manufactured. This is because authentic community contains life, and life can’t be manufactured. You can’t build a living thing on an assembly line.
But this is the way it’s attempted in small group programs. The thought is that if all of the parts above are “put together” by following the instructions, then Kingdom community will “be built.” But, it’s being learned the hard way that this just isn’t the case.
Myths about belonging to kingdom community
In fact, there are a lot of beliefs about how community develops that just aren’t true. Despite the small group program’s effort to help fill the gap, the book The Search to Belong by Joseph Myers shows us many “Common Myths of Belonging” that these programs embrace. They include…
More time = more belonging.
While time is a crucial factor in the facilitation of community, spending time together itself does not develop community. You can spend a ton of time together, but if the maturity to love one another through conflict isn’t present, the development of community will be stopped right in its tracks before it ever gets rolling.
More commitment = more belonging.
While commitment is another crucial factor in the facilitation of community, showing up every time there’s a meeting does not mean that community will develop. Ever come across a married couple that simply doesn’t get along very well, but you know they’ll be together until they die because they made a commitment and they’re going to stick to it? They have commitment, but they don’t have community.
More purpose = more belonging.
While sharing a common purpose might be enough to get people together, wanting to see the same outcomes in life does not mean that community will develop between people. I’ve been on plenty of teams where everyone wanted to win, but their ideas about how to accomplish that kept them from letting community develop.
More personality = more belonging.
While interaction is an important part of community developing, being outgoing/funny/witty/smart or whatever doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got healthy relationships in all the ways you need them. In fact, it’s typical to find outgoing people that exhibit attention-seeking behaviors because they’re starving for Kingdom community. You can also find people that are very introverted, but feel plenty of belonging.
More proximity = more belonging.
I’ve said many times on this blog that close-knit Kingdom community simply isn’t possible without living in close proximity to one another. But, you can live in close proximity to one another and not have Kingdom community. How about all of those neighbors that live within shouting distance of you whose names you don’t even know?
Small groups don’t equal great relationships
All of these have something in common. They may help to provide an opportunity for quality relationships to develop, but they actually don’t directly develop them. And this my friends is why small groups tend to fail to provide belonging. The people within them have to rely on these things because they haven’t developed the spiritual maturity and/or have not been trained in the skills it takes for Kingdom community to develop.
You can be close, be there all the time, never miss, believe the right things and be outgoing. But, if a group of people isn’t trained into maturity in how to live in the Kingdom, the chances are slim to none that the group will provide lasting belonging; and slim left town :).
Now, I didn’t say the group wouldn’t last. There are small groups that have been around forever, providing some level of surface-y social belonging for their members. But, if we hope to belong to true Kingdom community where members are being formed into “little Christs,” we’re going to have to learn a lot about relationships, how they develop and how they are grown.