Most of us love the feeling of being "at home"—which often has more to do with the people you are with than the place you are in. Likewise, we long to be part of a church community where we feel at home. We can put a lot of stock in this feeling, often to the point where we switch groups or churches frequently in search of it.
But what can we realistically expect from a small-group experience? When I've talked to people who have left a small group, many say they just didn't sense they were being "fed" in that group. Or they didn't sense the Lord's presence in the midst of that group. In some cases those assessments may have merit, but many are really seeking an experience or a feeling is not reasonable or spiritually healthy.
Aside from the roles that leadership and group dynamics play in small groups, there are important spiritual truths to consider when evaluating our group experience—and we have to work on discerning between perception and reality. Here are four ideas that may help you think about your commitment to your current group—four levels in which God's presence exists with us:
This is what some theologians call omnipresence. It means God is everywhere. He is present in all places at the same time. Not only that, you can't ever go to a place in this realm of understanding where his love and power are not constantly at work. Romans 8:38–39 says: " … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
So, regardless of how you feel about your current small-group experience, your small group cannot get a way from God's love—no matter what!
Try this: To test this, consider a difficult situation you have experienced in group life and ask this question: Is God's love prohibited from transforming this situation? Biblically, the answer is always no. Every person and every group has God's love at work within them, and the potential for transformation is there, regardless of the current situation.
The next level takes things a bit farther—it's here God makes his "home" with us. John 1:14 says: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Matthew 18:20 says: "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Whenever and whereever a group of believers gather, Jesus is in also there; he is "at home" with us. But we still have to invite him in. Revelation 3:20 says: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Most agree this verse is referring more to fellowship with Jesus than salvation. So fellowship with God—both individually and as a group—is dependent on us, as much as Jesus.
Sadly, even though Jesus is in the neighborhood, some small groups still haven't opened the door to welcome him into their group fellowship. And that may be one of the factors that leads some to conclude they just don't feel "at home" in their current small group.
Try this: Take a minute to try the driveway test. If you don't feel that "close to home" excitement when you pull into the driveway of where your small group meets, or if you dread being with your small-group family, then it's likely you are not inviting Jesus into your gathering. Yes, Jesus' presence may bring about conviction of sin or tension about unresolved relational issues, but the presence of a major dysfunction usually means that his presence and power are not manifest in the fellowship of your group. In other words, when a small group gathers together in the presence of Jesus, very few people will dread the encounter.