"The meter is running buddy." That is what the driver said to me as I got into the taxi. I thought it ironic that he did not ask me where we were going, but simply informed me that I had better hurry. Every second seemed to become a dollar. I was in a hurry. (These days it seems all of my life is one big rush, from taking the kids to school, to doctor appointments, to work, and group and everything else.) I informed the driver of my destination, and he took off. I found my eyes fixed on the meter, wanting the driver to go faster. After all, in a taxi time really is money! I stifled my impatient impulses and gave the driver his due at the airport. I was going home, and that was well worth the cost. Home was where I would finally get some rest from a busy traveling weekend. Hurry and rushing was all that I had done. I know many of you can relate to that as well. We spend our lives rushing everywhere, but where are we going?
In our small groups, we often talk about the idea of "community." We have defined community as "love in action." 1 Peter 1:22 states, "love one another deeply, from the heart" (NIV). We understand that this kind of love is created naturally and intentionally when Home Fellowships are formed and flourish, but I have a feeling that for many of our groups, the community life is somewhat stunted. I do not think it has much to do with a leader's ability to facilitate a group, nor is it a problem with the host of a group. The issue is one of time, the lack of time in our lives and the demands of our life schedule. All of that "stuff" gets in the way of building community in groups.
It is my guess that many groups find their "talk" not matching their "walk" when it comes to community living. I think many group members have good intentions. They might say, "let's get together" or "let's do lunch," but reality sets in when the next group meeting comes and we still have not carved out the time to fellowship and grow important relationships. Well-meant thoughts fall aside as our busy schedules cause us to often live in regret. It is not the life we have always wanted to live, so group leaders hope that maybe next month things will get better. They rarely do.
How can groups grow in such an environment? I want to share a few points that I believe will help. However, I warn you up front, it will be difficult to change patterns.
- Never talk about meeting with group members without your calendar present! If you assume you will get to something later, chances are you never will. You must give yourself the first and best chance to do the right thing. For most of us, this means getting it on our life's calendar.
- Speaking of the calendar and our life schedule, review how you spend your time. That can be a sobering exercise, especially when you realize how much of that time is spent outside of a community relationship. Randy Frazee in his book Making Room For Life writes, " We spend much of our time around others, yet we are the loneliest people on the planet." How can that be true? How can we be surrounded by people and yet be lonely? Simple. Just think about all of the mindless things we do, from driving to work, to grocery shopping, to taking the kids to ball games and lessons, and especially watching television. Our calendars are full of things we do, most of which we do isolated from one another. In America, we do not control our calendars; our calendars control us!
- Take time in your group to raise the issue of community life. I do that often, and slowly our group is turning towards a deeper and more connected life with one another. We all have busy lives, yet I make it a point each week to check our community temperature. Often I will simply ask, "How are we doing?" Just asking the question in regards to community life will raise the issue to a point where eventually it cannot be ignored.
- Give refrigerator rights to your group members. The other day I told my group that my home is their home. They can stop by anytime they want. My wife added that if we are in our pajamas, that may be a hint that the timing might be off! When I told the group this, everyone smiled. I saw that as, "Gee thanks Jon, but we would never just drop by unannounced." Seeing this, I upped the ante by offering refrigerator rights. I told my group that when they drop by, "come check out the food." This also came with my wife's warning, "Before you eat, smell." That referred to the old food that everyone, including us, has in the fridge. What I was telling my group is this; "I will share my life with you." Our house may be small, but we are determined to make it a community center for our group and our neighbors. Try it yourself. Open your door to your group members.
- Do not be driven by the curriculum, but use the study to develop closeness with your group members and with the Lord. The most important thing about Bible study is what we learn together. The Bible is not simply a textbook, it is a living book on how to exist with one another according to God's design. The goal of a good study is transformation. Make that happen by applying the study to your entire group.
- Pray with your group members often, and make sure that one of those prayers concerns your group's desire to draw closer to one another.
These are just a few options for growing as a close-knit community in your small group. Remember, you must make community a priority if you want to experience it in your group! Now, I had better clean the house a bit. You never know who might drop by!