by Bob D’Ambrosio
Last week after my small-group meeting, Dale and Jodi stuck around to tell me how much they appreciate being in the group. “We were looking for community but didn’t know how to find it at church,” Dale told me. Their affirmation gave me hope. I believe authentic faith communities may help prevent people from leaving the church!
In his book Church Refugees, Dr. Josh Packard says that one of the reasons people today are leaving the church is because they’re “done.” They are done with lecture-style preaching and teaching, and they crave a place for authentic relationships and conversation.
This echoes the observation that Rick Chromey shares in his book Sermons Reimagined: Preaching to a Fluid Culture. Rick informs us that “In a Google world, answers are everywhere, so there’s no need to go to a church building to listen to one [person’s] solutions. Postmoderns fear ignorance and resent one-size-fits-all resolutions.”
It seems small-group interaction may be key to keeping people tied to the church and connected to God. Sounds easy, but it could be hard to accomplish with the traditional small-group model.
Groups that focus on fill-in-the blank answers, with leaders who control the learning outcomes, will never achieve the type of deeper-level conversations people today are seeking. Mark Howell, pastor of communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, believes that “a small group provides the optimal environment for the life-change Jesus intends for every believer.”
Here are three ways to help small groups develop a culture of connectivity.
1. Create an environment of transparency. The pseudo-community that exists in most small groups is one in which members put on a mask and act the way they think they should Life is messy and so are people. Transparency communicates that God’s grace is sufficient—regardless of warts and all. Create a place that says, “we’re all in this together.” Conversations deepen when people feel free to be themselves.
2. Encourage dialogue. Great discussions get everyone involved—which means it’s more about the participants than it is about the leader. Use a facilitation style when leading a small group, rather than a teacher or advisory approach. As people share with the group, be careful not to make it about “right and wrong” answers, which can hinder people from sharing their questions and uncertainties. Reassure people in the group that asking the hard questions and grappling with tough issues is a great way to strengthen our faith. Look for curriculum and resources designed with this approach, such as Group’s new Fearless Conversation Adult Sunday School and Small Group Curriculum.
3. Look for God. As groups dig deeper in discussion, don’t worry if things wander off a bit. Biblical insights rarely follow a straight line. It’s possible that God may be directing the conversation to an area that will have even greater impact on the lives of those in the group than you could even imagine. Relax and let God be in control. Expect divine interaction because you’ve invited God into the conversation.
Meaningful small groups, relevant Bible classes, and worship messages that allow people to connect with each other—and God—may help with backdoor losses. At least for Dale and Jodi it’s working.