As people are created from relationships and for relationships, it only makes sense for us to want to live with other people. From school classes and bands to small groups at church to family clans, we were raised to live in communities. We may be part of one, a few, or even none of these micro-communities.
Why have small groups?
We like to function as small units because it’s easier to connect on a more personal level with fewer people. I only want my closest friends to know my deepest secrets; I don’t want everyone around me to know everything about me.
For this reason, the benefits of small groups outweigh those of mass gatherings where you barely know the name of the person next to you. The culture and intentionality of small groups allow for close bonds to grow and accountability for all aspects of our lives.As multifaceted people, we thrive in different groups for different hobbies and values.
It’s not easy being an outsider.
While there is joy and deep friendships gained in a small group, there seems to be always someone who is not a part of this. And this is not necessarily due to their own choicebut because we easily gravitate toward like-minded people.
What about those who aren’t in this tight-knit group? How do they feel on the outside peering inwards?
They hear laughter and inside jokes. They see embraces and planning of the next gathering. The possibility of joining a group has just grown dimmer, and they only feel lonelier and more distant.
What is their place in this world of small groups?
One would think there would be no outsiders in a church. But I know it does because I’ve been there as an outsider and as one naively creating barriers for others to join.
Some barriers to participation.
There are internal and external barriers. These include time, financial, and health restraints. With the recent pandemic, I think we all have more sympathy towards those with vulnerable health conditions and those who want to protect themselves from being unwell.
One significant barrier is an unwelcoming group; they ignore the newcomer and do not engage them in conversations with everyone else. Barriers like these are beyond the control of the attendee and leave them unmotivated to go again next time.Or perhaps the set-up of small groups is not fitting for this modern society as people may be unintentionally left out?
For me, shift work has limited my attendance at church events and social gatherings with friends. Events start at times when I’m still at work. I also don’t want to get sick and spread it to the vulnerable population. I know I sometimes use tiredness as an excuse to not attend. But the underlying reason is I’m usually more exhausted after going rather than being refreshed and filled up.
Groups are overrated because of exclusivity.
I find it the hardest to cope when there are gatherings of people close to me, yet an invitation has not been extended to me. The reason these are even worse than already set-up small groups is you can’t self-invite to these events. I always can’t help but think about what I could have done to be invited or did the people consider me when this event was planned.
Small groups are great when you’re in one,but there can be mixed emotionsattached when you’re not there. The complexity lies in longing for attachment and distancing yourself more because the fear of being hurt or rejected even once is too great to bear.
Jesus alone can fulfil all our desires and satisfies us completely, so we don’t need anything more. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t crave fora physical community. We want people we can see, voices we can hear, and the touch of compassion.
Ways to unify this world:
I pray this acronym ‘unify’ will help us fulfil God’s mission of uniting people to him and each other.
Understand God’s heart for unity by studying the Bible and the life of Jesus.
Navigate the presenting barriers people face to joining small groups.
Invite and include every person as if they were Jesus.
Forgo my personal preferences for the sake of God and his kingdom.
Yield to the Spirit’s prompting and work.
God created community and therefore desires us to live guided by his perfect unity.
Stephanie enjoys simple living, admiring nature’s beauty and intricacy, and playing the piano. She is particularly passionate about empowering the vulnerable. Writing is her way of processing thoughts and feelings to understand herself, God and the world in a deeper and more meaningful way.