Discovering Community

How God solidified and expanded one church's vision for small groups.

Everyone at Community Church of Joy (CCOJ) in Glendale, Arizona, knew that God was moving in their church and preparing them for something new. They just didn't know what it was.

With this spirit of expectancy, Dr. Walt Kallestad decided to take a sabbatical. He and his wife, Mary, set this time aside specifically for prayer and seeking God's will for their next step. They visited churches in Africa and Europe, studied and read, and spent hours on their knees. During their travels, they were deeply impacted by a small church in Sheffield, England, that was forced to meet in homes because the building they had once met in had been condemned. This passionate church was based on a house-church model right out of Acts 2.

The Kallestads came back from the sabbatical with a clear vision of God's plans for CCOJ: Small groups would become the crux of how they connected their members and their community.

God had been setting the wheels in motion for this change even before Pastor Walt left on his sabbatical. Their church had always had a few small groups, but most of them had not continued over time so they ended up having only a handful meeting at any given time.

Before he left, Pastor Walt had staff member Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank contact Lifetogether in California. She flew out to join their gathering of leaders from several churches at the forefront of small group development. This was the beginning of their partnership with Lifetogether.

When they embarked on this journey, they knew small groups were going to be a part of their plan for the future, they didn't know that it would become their whole new way of doing church. With the Kallestads' return, small groups went from being viewed as a valuable new program to being central to what the Lord was going to do in their community. Now it's "not about small groups happening in one program area," says Escobedo-Frank. "It's about this being a whole transition for the church. The whole church, all the staff, everybody is getting aligned with this idea."

Even though they are still early in this transition, the response from the members has already been incredibly positive. The truth that God actually created them to be in community continues to resonate with them. Escobedo-Frank says members regularly come to her saying everything from "I'm lonely. I need to be a part of a group" to "I finally found a way to connect" to "I've never been asked to serve before." Members are really responding to the call to get into community.

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