Note: This has been excerpted from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House.
We have all been there. Six o'clock on Tuesday evening, sitting in an awkward circle in the living room, trying to think of something clever but not too revealing to say. Jane starts in with an icebreaker: "If you were a piece of fruit, what fruit would you be?" You can't wait for this to end. Thankfully your group leader turns the group's attention to some question from last Sunday's sermon. "Do you agree with what Pastor Jim said about Jesus?" Crickets. As you try to avoid eye contact, your mind wanders to the work you could be catching up on. When the evening finally ends, you feel a sense of relief and accomplishment that you have carried your cross another week. You are excited that you won't have to do that for another seven days, although you do feel a twinge of guilt that you won't fulfill your promise to the leader that you will invite a friend because, truth be told, you would be embarrassed to bring a nonbeliever into this community.
This is not transformational community. Somewhere along the way we equated these awkward gatherings with what it means to be a small group and have adopted these rhythms without any thought. We have passively sucked the joy, life, and sanctification out of community. We can experience more.
By now you have probably picked up on the idea that I am not a huge fan of awkward small groups. Community should be a source of life, and we want to breathe life back into community groups. It is important to understand the gospel and its implications for community. Having our minds renewed by the Word of God with regard to community is the first step to reviving it in our churches. Then it is time for some new wineskins.
"No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed" (Luke 5:37). In the same way, if we try to cram the ideas we have talked about into our traditional view of doing community, then something is going to break. We need to break through some of the basic assumptions that define a community group. If we are going to pour the new wine of the gospel lived out in community—expressed in worship to God, community to one another, and mission to the lost—then we need new wineskins.
Rhythms are the wineskin of community. An event once a week cannot contain gospel-centered community on mission with God. If we are going to breathe life into community, we must rethink how we practically live life together.
During a recent conference a leader asked me how his group would ever reach the people in their neighborhood when they didn't have enough time each week to address the struggles in their group. This question is excellent. It reveals the common distortion that community should be inward focused and the struggle of a group to look up from their own navels. The picture was becoming clear to this leader. Gospel-centered community would take more than a two-hour event once a week.
This type of community requires a complete rethinking of how we see our participation in a community group. What if "community group" referred to a people rather than an event? When I think of the people I love and enjoy being around, I start to dream of opportunities to be with them. The body of Christ should be like that. This doesn't mean that we don't have events within a community group. It simply means that we define our group by the people and relationships in it rather than the events themselves.