Just before dawn on Saturday morning, a few neighbors gather in my driveway bearing dozens of eggs, gallons of orange juice, fruit, bagels, and cheese. We drive to a women's shelter in the city, then cook and serve breakfast to the 30 or so women who live there. Two hours later, we head back to the suburbs in time to get our kids to their various activities. It's the perfect service project for a group of busy suburban moms.
Several of these women are in my small group (a neighborhood Bible study), but some are just friends of people in the group. We welcome anyone from the neighborhood who wants to go with us. We've been doing this for more than two years. At least ten different women have gone with us, usually three or four at a time—which we've discovered is optimal in the shelter's kitchen. Some people go nearly every month, others just go once in a while. It's been a way for our group to rally around a cause, to share an adventure, and to begin living out the biblical love and compassion we've been studying.
Doing service projects together builds camaraderie within the group. In a way, service projects are the "lab" to small group's "lecture." If you are studying the Bible, they allow you to live out what you are learning. They provide some space to show the love and compassion of God to those in need.
The Bible says that faith without works is dead. And it has plenty to say about the poor. For example, Proverbs 22:9 says: "The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor." And Proverbs 19:17 says, "Those who are kind to the poor lend to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done."
Serving those in need is part of what it means to be a Christian. Performing that service together with your small group can be a life-changing experience—if you approach it the right way. Here are some tips for adding this important element to your group life.
Start With Prayer
Henry Blackaby famously observed that prayer is noticing where God is at work, and then joining him in that work. This is precisely the kind of listening prayer that must precede any small-group service project. Where is there a need? What are group members passionate about? Where is there, perhaps, an organization that is working to meet that need and could use a little help? Where is God calling your group to serve? What passions has he placed on the group members' hearts? Are there some needs right in your own neighborhood?
Pray together as a group, and ask God to lead you. Hashing it out is part of listening to God in community. Listen to each other as you listen to God.
For example, our group serves breakfast at a women's shelter run by Breakthrough Urban Ministries (www.breakthroughministries.com). There is a huge need in the part of Chicago where this ministry works. Before we started doing our monthly breakfasts, I already knew of Breakthrough and their work. They have a system in place where volunteers come in to serve meals. They were looking for a group to take one meal a month (ours is always breakfast on the second Saturday). And our group members had a passion for the homeless, and for domestic violence victims. This was a great fit.
Give the group time to process the idea of doing a serving project, and make sure everyone has input. You may want to start by selecting a one-time project. Check with your church or another local charity to research possibilities. Our church, for example, packs meals once a year to send to Africa through an organization called Feed My Starving Children. Our church also runs a food pantry where they need volunteers on a regular basis. Going once to a soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity build, or some other one-time project can be a good way to start.