By Cheri Liefeld
Five years ago, I both started and joined my first small group. I wanted friends at my church and desperately needed community. I felt alone in a big crowd, yet each week I ran out the door to my car instead of stopping to get to know other people.
I was going to join a small group until our church launched free-market groups based on interest. I discovered I could start a group based on two passions: being a foodie and my faith. In the weeks leading up to our launch, I worried no one else would share the same desire. To my surprise, six women showed up that first night. They were just like me, longing for connection. For most of them, it was also their first small group.
At the time, I didn’t realize how beneficial joining a small group would be. It ended up being the starting point for reengaging in ministry, deepening my relationship with Jesus, and making Eastside my home. Here are just a few of the reasons I would do it again.
- We crave community. Each week we gathered around the table for a meal, shared our lives, and talked about Jesus. I fell in love with small groups and saw the vital role they play in both the church and people’s lives. Most people don’t join a group and lead one, but many people in our churches feel isolated and feel like the community they see around them is escaping them.
Owning a small business where I worked alone most days made it hard to meet people. Sitting around the table that first night, I realized how much I missed the community of other believers. The laughter and honest sharing around the table each week filled my soul. God did not create us to live life alone. When we come together each week, we find power in encouragement, conversation, and prayer.
- Accountability is key. Agreeing to be in a small group brings some much-needed accountability, in a good way. When someone is tired at the end of the day and wants to go home, a text saying, “Can’t wait to see you!” provides the extra motivation to attend. Making plans to sit together at church or worship nights also keeps people on track. Going through a study keeps us in the Word. We can wrestle over passages of Scripture together, allowing people space to work out what they believe.
In a group, we can challenge each other to rethink what is not working in our lives and the next step to bring about healthy change. Most of all, we point people to Jesus. The group is hopefully a safe place to express opinions and doubts. With a mix of love, encouragement, and truth, we can honestly look at ourselves and admit when we need help.
- We grow in Groups. One of my favorite things about joining a small group is watching others take the next step on their spiritual journey. I experienced this. My life improved spiritually, socially, and emotionally when I took that first step to join a small group. Each time we launch new groups, I hear stories from other people who experience the same thing.
We encourage small group leaders to help people take their next step. They will introduce this idea to the group and ask them to pray about where God is calling them to grow spiritually. This exercise helps people intentionally pray and take their next steps. People start reading their Bible, they get baptized, and sometimes they launch a new small group.
When people are isolated, and without community, it’s easy to doubt their value and forget who they are in Christ. As a group, when we see someone’s gifting and encourage it, it’s life changing. As leaders, it is a privilege to encourage people to follow how they feel God is leading. When they nervously take that first step, we are there to cheer them on. My friend Jen kept saying she was not a leader to anyone who would listen. One day she responded to my invitation to join a leadership group saying, “God told me to, but I am not a leader!” Years later, she is still leading a small group of women.
Small groups are natural connections for discipleship to take place outside of small groups. One of our small groups of young women invited a few older women to come and share with their group. After those meetings, connections formed, which built one-on-one discipleship relationships. Mentor moms from our MOPS groups started a yearly 6-week discipleship class. In a church our size, these types of relationships wouldn’t have happened outside of the connections made in small groups.
- We long to belong. The first Sunday after our meeting, I ran into two of my new small group members. I found a reason to stay and talk, eventually met more people, and felt like I was part of something bigger. It’s funny how I had gone there for two years, sat in the same section, and had never seen any of them before.
A sense of belonging is essential. Feeling like we are part of a bigger picture, being known, and valued breaks down walls.
With each new small group I launch, I witness the same phenomenon occur. Group participants are excited to recognize their new friends at a service and soon start making plans to sit together. Being in a small group creates that bridge to making the church feel like home.
- We have the opportunity to help others. Every time our group serves together, I am amazed at the depth of bonding that occurs. We want our groups to make a difference and ask that they serve together at least once a session. Coming together to help others is powerful. Small talk combined with the shared experience of serving and making a difference adds a layer to our friendship that doesn’t occur while sitting in a circle each week.
When we serve, we get to be part of God’s bigger plan. The opportunities to connect locally and globally crack open our hearts and help us discover passions God has placed within. We see the needs in our community.
- We need each other. Life is hard and messy. I started taking steps to get involved because I was caring for a parent and had a moment when I realized if anything happened, we didn’t know anyone at our church to turn to for comfort, support, and prayers.
The New Testament has numerous “one another” verses telling us how to care for others. How we care for each other is important to God.
We have the opportunity to care for one another, pray for one another, and celebrate with one another. Whether we are raising kids, caring for aging parents, or facing personal health or financial challenges, we will all find ourselves in need at some point. Small groups keep us from facing these issues on our own. Through our Group Me text chain, one of my group members will jump on and say, “I need prayer right now.” We stop and pray. We have seen the power of prayer and the impact that it has had on our friends and families.
I might have started my first group for personal reasons, but the group changed me. I will never tire of watching people join a group and find their place.
Cheri Liefeld is the Director of Small Groups at Eastside Community Church in Anaheim, California. She was previously Director of Women’s Ministry at Mariners Church. She is a writer and loves to gather people around the table. You can read more at adenturesinthekitchen.com.