The Odd Bunch

How to include a small group that doesn't naturally fit with the rest of your church.

In a small group at a pastors' workshop, we were asked to reflect on the previous year's deepest pain and greatest joy.

"My greatest pain," said one pastor, "resulted from the conflict over a divorce-recovery group we started about ten months ago. A small core of longtime members contended we were condoning divorce, if not actually encouraging it. My greatest joy has been that our divorce-recovery group attracted so many people that we've had to divide it. Now we have 2 groups of nearly 30 people apiece."

How frequently pain and joy accompany the same experience! The story also illustrates that it's not unusual for a small group within the church to receive less than enthusiastic support from other members.

In some cases, a new group might face resistance because members of the group appear unconcerned about becoming fully integrated into present church life. One common example is the home Bible study that never uses the church's curriculum, nor does it seek or welcome pastoral assistance. Whether or not the group is composed entirely of church members, the participants don't consider the group as part of the church's teaching or caring ministries.

But there are other examples:

  • The group of older members that adored the long-tenured minister who retired several years ago, and unfortunately never have accepted either of the two successors as "our pastor." Most of them have been in the same adult Sunday school class (meeting in the same room) for the past three decades. A few never miss worship, but most "stay for church" fewer than half the Sundays in the year.
  • That group of young adults organized by the energetic and charming associate minister who left two years ago. He built a close-knit and caring group, but never got around to helping these young adults shift their allegiance from him to the congregation. About half the group has disappeared since his departure; the remaining dozen or so, although listed as members, display little sense of belonging to the congregation.

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