On the other end of the spectrum, some churches have moved toward groups that require high commitment. This is the kind of deep life lived in community that Ruth Haley Barton writes of in Life Together in Christ. For those disillusioned with shallow small groups, high-commitment groups focused on intentional spiritual growth are a welcome change. Though not attractive to all in our small-group ministries, these groups attract people who have the time, energy, and drive to invest in their spiritual growth. Curricula like Life Together in Christ and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality require participants to invest long-term in relationships, share vulnerably about their pains, and ask others to hold them accountable.
Ruth Haley Barton notes, "A transforming community is made up of people who are interested in being transformed by Christ's presence, who have a desire to be transformed." But transformation requires more than attaining knowledge, Barton asserts. Study may be a necessary foundation to growth, but it's only the starting point. As group members experience meaningful growth together, deep relational bonds are forged, and the group begins to operate as a true community.
Along these lines, Mariners Church in Irvine, California, now offers Rooted Groups. These 10-week discipleship-focused small groups were developed in direct response to a frustrating dynamic in their small-group ministry. The church's smallgroup ministry had promised that group members would be cared for, loved, and nurtured, and they were reaping the benefits: people felt incredibly cared for. But those people seemed stuck spiritually. Partnering with a church in Africa, Mariners created an experiential program that involves serving together, a prayer experience, a devotional, and more. Group discussions include confession and accountability, and the 10 weeks end with a baptism celebration. While the focus isn't directly on building relationships, Rooted participants come away with deep friendships.
As churches across the country grapple with how to promote peace in the midst of racial turmoil, several have started offering small groups focused on racial reconciliation. NewStory Church in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood has offered specific small groups for this purpose for years. Rich Gorman, who co-pastors the church with his wife, Dori, shared that these groups provide a safe place to gain understanding and perspective. "When you start to hear people's stories and their burdens, that's where compassion is birthed," Gorman says.
Aaron Cho, Associate Pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, agrees that sharing stories is important to racial reconciliation. He explains, "I tell leaders that early on, it's more important to spend the time listening to each other's stories than it is to discuss the study. We have to set a good foundation where we feel valued, known, and heard. From that place of trust and authenticity we can move into engaging Scripture and prayer." Quest intentionally pairs co-leaders who have different backgrounds; leaders can then represent different sides of the conversation and model racial reconciliation for the group.