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An Open Letter to Small-Group Pastors

An Open Letter to Small-Group Pastors

Why you need to focus on fun with your small groups, and how to actually do it

Ben Reed  |  posted 2/01/2011

Note: This article is excerpted from the training resource Making Small Groups Fun!.

Dear Small-Group Pastors,

I just want to take a minute to say that we're all proud of the way you've done your research and found the most biblical curriculum. You've trained your small-group leaders to have airtight, foolproof theology. They can move from a discussion on the Nephilim to ecclesiology, then weave in a bit of distinction between Calvinism, the resurrection, and eschatology.

You've taught your group leaders how to facilitate a discussion, minister to the EGRs, fill the empty chair, raise up apprentice leaders, and plant new groups. You've helped groups become more "missional" by consistently serving their neighborhoods and communities. Group members are working to baptize and make disciples of all nations, starting with their families and neighbors.

But one thing is missing. Small groups aren't fun. Sometimes they're boring, actually. Sometimes people only come because they feel like they are supposed to.

So here's my plea to you, small-group champion: incorporate fun, life, and humor into the small groups at your church.

Why to Focus on Fun

Before I get into the practical steps of "how" to make your group fun, here's why I think it's a big deal when fun and humor are missing from a small group:

  1. If it's not fun, people won't come back. It's possible to get more information in a more convenient time in a more convenient way through many other means. Podcasts, books, blogs, and forums offer information and discussion environments at any time of the day, every day of the year. What separates small groups from each of these environments is the relationship, face-to-face aspect. Make sure you maximize this!
  2. If there's no fun, it's not reflective of real life. If your group is intensely serious, it can drain the life right out of people. We're only wired to take so much seriousness. And often, our work environments give us plenty of seriousness.
  3. If there's no laughter, people are missing out on great medicine. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22). Maybe what hurting people need isn't more medicine, but a healthy small group. They need to laugh together so hard that they snort. They need to laugh at themselves. They need to laugh at a corny joke. Because God has wired us to receive healing through laughter. I'm not sure how it works, but after a difficult day at work—with the kids, with finances, with in-laws—laughing helps to melt away stress and anxiety, bringing healing to your aching bones.
  4. Have you ever belly-laughed? Seriously, there's not much that's more redemptive than belly-laughing with someone in your small group. If you've laughed that way, from your gut, you know what I mean. If you haven't, then I sincerely weep for you. Join my small group, please—we'll show you how to do it.
  5. When we have fun together, we show others that we serve a good God. Check this out: "Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them'" (Psalm 126:2). Did you catch that? When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. Could the flip-side be true? If our mouths aren't filled with laughter, could people become convinced that the God we serve isn't good? That he doesn't take delight in loving is people? That the God we give witness to is ultimately boring, and the eternity with him that we say will be wonderful is painted as dull and lifeless?

Topics:Encouragement, Food, Fun, Humor, Interaction, Joy
References:Psalm 126:2, Proverbs 17:22
Date Added:February 01, 2011

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Craig Olson

February 17, 2012  8:26pm

I could never understand the fascination with small groups. It seems to me small groups are supposed to be the modern church's answer to community since people have so little contact with one another outside of church services. The American solution is always to add on some program or activity. But you can't add on community. It has to be an integral part of life. Acts 2 says "All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Community was the product of life lived together, not some man made program. The love it spawned cannot be artificially duplicated by small groups as evidenced by the modern church's reputation for hypocrisy, not love.

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March 17, 2011  4:17am

I'll take the 'negative,' here. 'Fun' isn't the biblical criteria for judging the 'success' of a small group. There is no reason why a group cannot have 'fun' while participating in a Spirit-filled study in the Word. Christians truly seeking help, comfort, & encouragment in God's word will never be bored; they will experience the 'fun' of spiritual life & growth. 'Fun' should not be the fundamental building block of small groups; it should rather be one of many results or fruits of the Spirit's work taking place through an illumined understanding of God's Word. Someone with deep needs, such as a brother or sister who has lost a loved one, will not be seeking a 'fun' group; they thirst for hope, strength, & authenticity that only comes from one, unchanging, eternal source: the Bible. 'Fun' can be any other social group.

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Ben Reed

February 02, 2011  9:26am

Mike, I absolutely think this applies to small groups. Can't wait to read your new book!

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Mike Mack

February 02, 2011  8:26am

Good article, Ben. I was just writing about this in my chapter on authentic community in my new book, 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group. Came across a quote yesterday that Barbara Rainey shared in her couples devotional: Oswald Chambers, the great devotional author of the early 1900s, said, "Human nature, if it is healthy, demands excitement; and if it does not obtain its thrilling excitement in the right way, it will seek it in the wrong way. God never makes bloodless stoics. He makes passionate saints." Wonder if this applies to small grou0ps as well?

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