When I was a new Christian, I started searching for a church. After three months of searching on my own, I finally decided to pray about it. I asked God to help me find a church like the one in the Book of Acts, which I had just started reading, a church where I could make friends and grow in my new faith. I lived by myself in a one-bedroom apartment and had no family in the area. My only acquaintances were people I worked with, most of whom were not Christians. The next day I came home from work and got a strange call. It was a wrong number—misdialed by one number. Before I could hang up, though, the lady on the other end asked me if she could tell me a little about her church. It turns out they were calling people in the neighborhood to invite them to their Easter Sunday services. My number wasn't on their list, but it appears God had other plans.
As I walked through the front doors of that church building the following Sunday morning, an older couple named Harvey and Shirley greeted me warmly and asked me about myself. They invited me to their house for iced tea on their back porch. And before the service concluded, they introduced me to some people my age, who in turn invited me to their small group. I don't think I've ever felt so accepted. At the same time, I was really unsure about attending a small group. I'd never heard of small groups, but I decided to give it a try.
My First Small-Group Meeting
When I got to the house for that first meeting, I drove around the block three times before finally parking my car and summoning the boldness to walk into that stranger's home. I don't remember what kind of snack was served, what we studied, or the prayer requests shared that night. But I do remember feeling very, very good about this group of people, and I knew I wanted them in my life.
Over the next couple of months, I enjoyed doing everyday things with these people. These weren't just once-a-week acquaintances, but real friends who invited me into their lives. This is exactly what I was longing for as a new Christian. I didn't know what to call it back then, but I was searching for biblical community.
That small group was life changing. They accepted me where I was as a new Christian. They helped me dig into the Bible and learn how to start living for God instead of myself. I had lots of questions during our meetings, but they were patient with me. Several of the guys met with me individually to encourage me and open up God's Word with me. They prayed with me and for me. They invited me to their homes and out to eat, and we did a lot together between meetings. When someone moved, we all pitched in. When someone was sick or hurt, we were all there to do anything we could to help.
God's Will and God's Way
At one group meeting, I shared that I was confused about God's will for my new life. Now that I was "a new creature in Christ," what was I supposed to do? I wondered out loud if I was in the right career. The group encouraged me and prayed with me to know God's will.
Within a month of joining that small group, the company I worked for went through a takeover and my whole department was eliminated. I went to the group that night and told them what had happened. "What do I do now?" I asked. As we sought God's direction, I sensed God was urging me to use my passion for writing. They held me to that as job offers came in, as I turned down job offers, and as I decided to attend seminary. And when I packed up my apartment to move to seminary, they helped me load the truck.
It was hard saying goodbye to these friends God had brought into my life, but I knew he put them there for a season and for a reason. As I left to begin this new adventure, I found comfort in knowing my friends would be praying for me.
Ever since that first group experience, I've been involved in small-group ministry. I've led groups, helped a church start a small-group ministry, written articles and books about small-group ministry, and even founded SmallGroups.com. I guess I've become a small-group junkie!
Someone at a small-group conference recently asked me, "Mike, why are you so passionate about small groups?" That's easy. The direction of my life was changed in the environment of a healthy small group of friends, and I've seen this happen in the lives of countless other people as well. Small groups themselves don't change lives, of course; only Jesus has the power to do that. But I believe he uses small groups of his followers to transform lives—one person, one small group at a time.
—Michael C. Mack is a small-group speaker and writer (including Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators that Make Small Groups Flourish) and founded SmallGroups.com, where he currently serves as an advisor; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.