by Bob D’Ambrosio
I left the church parking lot wondering how it could have happened―I attended my weekly men’s Bible study group and realized that I hadn’t talked to a single person all evening. And no one talked to me. As I was driving home, feeling totally invisible, I reflected on the factors that caused me to feel left out.
A Big Small-Group
Our normal “small group” doubled in size since it was combined with two other groups, which had absent leaders. How big is too big? I’m not sure of the exact number but I can tell you that 24 men sitting in a super large circle is too big. The group size intimidated some men who felt uncomfortable speaking in front of large audiences, leaving only a few alpha males to dominate the discussion.
Circles are better than rows, but small circles are better than big circles. I kept thinking how much better the discussion would have been if the leader asked everyone to circle up their chairs in groups of four. Smaller groups create a deeper level of discussion and produce in-depth faith connections.
No Personal Sharing
When I joined this men’s study group, I was hoping to make some new friends and hear the faith stories of other Christ-followers. That’s not happening. Our weekly sharing is only about the lesson content and fill-in-the-blank answers. There’s no opportunity to connect on a personal level.
Loneliness haunts people today. Social media and technology have removed us from real face-to-face, authentic friendships. Bible classes, small groups, and other church events can help people develop community and relationships. This doesn’t just happen. We need to be intentional about creating spaces for friendships to grow.
This could have been accomplished in my men’s group if the leader had opened with a fun, nonthreatening and personal “intro question.” Explore ways you can get people talking and building friendships as they begin to transition into the lesson theme or main Bible point.
After being silent during the small-group time, I joined with all the other small-group members for a large-group teaching. Long-term charter men, who’ve attended for many years, clustered together and had some conversations before the teaching leader got started. There was no one sitting in the “church pew” next to me, so I pretended to be engaged with my cellphone. Once the teacher opened the class, we listened to a 45-minute lecture. Then everyone got up, and headed to the parking lot. I ended the evening as it began―unconnected to anyone in the class.
Like others who were new, I was hoping the class teacher would ask us to find a partner and share something. Or, perhaps, form a trio to introduce ourselves and comment on an lesson application to our lives.
Creating opportunities for people to form community, friendship, and biblical connection doesn’t just happen. But when we become intentional in how we create environments for people to connect with God and each other―we create a culture of radical hospitality. And the church can be one place where this happens!