The Importance of the Small Group

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Small Groups Badge 2016I have a tendency to watch people. In fact, observing is a part of my job description as a school counselor. I spend the majority of my time in classrooms keeping track of certain kids’ behavior. This works out well because, for as far back as I can recall, I’ve been a people watcher. During college, half the fun of going to see a movie with friends was in getting to the theater 30 minutes early so we could loiter in the lobby while watching strangers interact with one another.

The watching of the people carries over into multiple areas of my life. Sure, it happens at work where I’m basically paid to do it. It happens in those rare times when I go out to eat with friends. It happens whenever I go to the grocery store if I’m not facing the annoyance of being around too many people while I just wanted to get a loaf of bread! And it happens at church.

I realize that sounds a little creepy. You probably have this mental image of me hiding in a corner on Sunday morning and just watching people as they make their way through the lobby and into the auditorium. That’s the image I get, anyway. But, I assure you, that’s not how it is. As the assistant children’s minister (assistant to the children’s minister), I stay fairly busy on your average Sunday. I’m sure you can imagine, there’s a lot to do on Sunday when you’re involved in ministry.

So I’m not creeping around behind signs and trash cans staring at people as they grab donuts and coffee. I’m getting things done. But that doesn’t mean I’ve turned off that switch in my brain labeled “observation.” I still see people talk and laugh and share about their weeks with each other. I see fellowship.

Fellowship is one of those words that church folk like to use. It’s something you find with a group of people who share similar interests or beliefs. Alternatively, it can mean a group of adventurers on a quest to destroy a ring of power. But Christians usually focus on the first definition. It’s an important part of Christianity because it aids in one’s spiritual growth and provides encouragement and accountability.

For a long time, I fooled myself into believing this fellowship was unnecessary. I was repeatedly disappointed by negative experiences in church and decided I didn’t need it. Who said that my faith couldn’t just be between me and God? After all, alone time with God is important. And I have no doubt that all that alone time would have been something special if I had had the discipline to study God’s Word and to grow in an improved prayer life. But I didn’t. Eventually, I didn’t even care to have that because I forgot what I was missing.

After a few years, I realized that I missed church. I missed being around people who shared similar interests and beliefs. So I found a place where I could belong. A place where I could be a part of fellowship. A place where I could serve.

Sometimes, serving cuts into the opportunity to experience fellowship. Sometimes I miss out on conversations with friends. Sometimes I miss how someone’s week has been. Sometimes I miss the chance to pray for someone’s needs. Sometimes I miss out on an invitation to lunch (though it’s possible I’m not being invited out because I tend to purposely embarrass those around me while out in public).

That sounds like I’m complaining. Really, though, I’m not. I love serving in whatever capacity is required of me at any given moment on a Sunday morning. More often than not, that involves one of my roles as assistant children’s minister (assistant TO the children’s minister). Sometimes it involves set up or tear down. Sometimes it means taking out the trash or cleaning up a mess. I wouldn’t trade any of these actions for anything. Which means I’m actually okay with missing out on the fellowship part.

But didn’t I just write about how important fellowship is to one’s faith? Doesn’t it provide encouragement and accountability? Why would I be okay with missing out on all that if I just said I missed it after years away from it? Well, that’s where the small group comes in.

What a disorganized blog post! The title is about small groups and I’m already 10 paragraphs in before talking about the thing!

Having grown up in a church where Sunday school (for kids and adults) was the norm, the concept of small groups that meet in people’s homes was foreign to me. In fact, it was unheard of. I never knew such a thing existed until I was in my mid-20’s. It wasn’t until I was a part of Northstar Church that I came to understand how important the role of the small group is.

I’m sure a small group will mean different things to different people. Even among members of my own group, I’m certain it has different meanings. But, to me, small group means I get to make up some of that fellowship that I don’t always have a chance to participate in on Sunday. For me, it means that Tuesday night is set aside to hang out in a friend’s apartment while we study scripture and discuss what we’re getting out of it. It means a chance to share our lives with each other while discussing what’s going on, whether it’s good or bad. It means a group of people with whom I can share prayer concerns at the drop of a hat and know that I have people in my corner praying for me and vice versa. It means having a group of people with whom I’m comfortable laughing, crying, and even sharing frustrations. I kind of love these people.

I find that I look forward to Tuesday evenings more than any other day of the week, more often than not. The not part of that only comes during those weeks when I’m unable to attend our small group meeting. When I can’t be there, I miss it terribly. When I can’t go, I miss out on seeing friends, catching up on their stories, and being poured into by fellow believers.

This is not the first small group I’ve been a part of since joining Northstar. People come and go in a college town like Blacksburg, so I know that this will not be the last group I’ll be a part of either. People grow and change, and that leads to change in groups from year to year. But, no matter where our lives take us, I will forever be grateful for those who have touched my life through these weekly gatherings.