“It’s like pulling teeth,” said my friend.
“And why do you think it’s like that?” I asked.
For a couple of years, my friend, Matt, has a group that meets at his house to study the Bible. The members all go to the same church, where the leadership encourages her members to attend home groups. We talked about his group, and I was curious about how he conducts their meetings and their challenges.
“Well, for one thing, they all show up expecting me to do all the talking and teaching,” said Matt. “And on top of that, every week, I have to call and remind them not to forget to attend,” he continued. “As I said, it’s like pulling teeth.”
“How did you find these people?” I asked.
“The church assigned them to us. We live in the same area.”
“So, you didn’t know them before?”
“No, our church is too large. We rarely sit next to the same person on any Sunday.”
I have met many home group leaders who face the same frustrations with their groups. They conduct their meetings very much like a church service. The leader speaks, and the rest listen. They are supposed to lead a group of people they hardly know. The kind who might attend the meeting when they feel like it because their interest in studying the Bible may well change from week to week.
Like most church services, attendees do not expect to do much, so personal interactions are often superficial and limited. Even when allowed, many don’t voice their opinions because they don’t feel qualified. Sometimes, people are too intimidated to express their views lest other participants tell them they are wrong and judge them. Or even worse, they have never been challenged to think for themselves, so they are more comfortable staying quiet.
If any of the above rings true with you, let me offer you some solutions.
Even as a small Iranian church pastor who knew all his church members personally, I faced the same challenges 30 years ago. And while I was frustrated with our small groups, I continued to conduct them the same way,
- I talked, and they listened
- Continually chased people to attend
- They came as they pleased
- Low expectations from the attendees
- Superficial interactions
- And so on
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing this?”
Pastor or not, as long as you look at these small groups as programs to attract people so that the church will grow in numbers, you’re wrong. Yes, your group can grow, but this should never be your primary goal.
I base my reasons for having small group meetings on two directives in the Bible:
To make disciples out of trustworthy and reliable people. (Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Tim. 2:2)
Twenty years ago, my wife and I started having small group meetings at our house (and for the past year via Zoom) using the following criteria:
- We invite the people. Our meetings are NOT open to all. And just as Jesus did in choosing the Twelve, we decide whom to invite through much prayer.
Years ago, I ran into an old friend. We used to attend church together. After a brief pleasantry, he wanted to know what was going on in my life. I told him about our house group, to which he responded, “I’m going to check it out one of these days.” To which I replied, “No, you’re not invited.” You may find this harsh, but I do this because:
- Our meetings are not for looky-loos. Everyone agrees to attend every week and not be absent without a cause. If they miss two sessions in a row for no reason, we asked them to stop coming very lovingly. I have my reasons for doing this also.
- We expect everyone to come to the meetings prepared to participate and interact with others. This is not a meeting where only the leader speaks, and the rest listen.
- Eventually, we ask every member to facilitate a meeting when it is their turn. If taught correctly, every member of the group will become a leader.
Every Wednesday on Zoom, I meet with six people from four different states. These are incredibly mature Christians who’ve been missionaries and pastors for many years. This Wednesday, reflecting on my above conversation with Matt, I asked the group the following question, “Why is this meeting different?” These are the responses I got:
- Trust. We trust each other, which allows us to be ourselves, vulnerable, and share freely with one another.
- Consistency in meeting faithfully with each other creates trust. For over a year, the same group of people has been meeting together every Wednesday for ninety minutes. The participation has not been out of obligation but out of faithfulness and desire.
- It is almost impossible to establish a sense of trust and openness with people you hardly know. That is why regular attendance is of utmost necessity for a fruitful small group. And to establish such a group, it is essential, as Paul says, to find trustworthy or reliable people and meet with them.
- Getting past the preconceived ideas. Too often in Christian culture, we’re expected to believe certain things and do things in specific ways. A majority of Christian meetings are about learning what’s right and what it means to be a Christian. This leaves little room for honest discussions and to share what’s going on in our lives. In our meetings, we are past those preconceived ideas. We’ve created a place where we can question, explore, and share. We may not always agree, but we respect one another and our different points of view. We value the worth of each other and respect what each person has been through.
- Expecting to learn from each other. We come with the understanding that every person’s opinion is valid. It is incredible what we can learn from others when they can freely share their thoughts with us. Are you aware that we all read books, even the Bible, through our prisms of life experiences? That is why listening to the way others interpret a sentence can be incredibly enriching. That is why in our meetings, we encourage and expect everyone to participate and share their stories, so we can all learn from each other.
So far, I’ve talked about how we conduct our small group meetings, but I have not said anything about what we do at our meetings. In my next blog, I will talk about what we do at our meetings.