I’ve been meaning to involve myself in a small group (we call them “Life Together” groups,) more or less since Immanuel first started, and now, almost four years later, I’ve finally done it. Better late than never, I suppose.

Church small groups are just one of those weird things. On the one hand, we believe them to be a deeply important way to practice being the Body of Christ together, full of opportunity for us to connect, grow, be vulnerable, and launch outwards in the fulness of the Spirit. On the other hand, we often find them to be kind of tedious, boring, and so “real-lifey” that we come away from them feeling let down or disappointed or even hurt. We’d rather just go play board games or get a beer with our friends, because what’s the difference?

There’s a lot of nuance and complexity in answering that kind of question, behooving all kinds of rigorous debate and conversation. But for the sake of this blog post, I maintain that, somehow, there is a difference.

However, our expectations and posture within Christian community go a long way in shaping our experience. This is especially true in the context of a newly formed group, or being new to a group that you’ve just joined.

So if you are contemplating joining a group, have just joined one, or even if you have been a part of one for a while, here are 9 observations or suggestions for how to posture yourself and set healthy expectations.

  1. You might still feel lonely even if you go regularly and get along with everyone. This is ok. Intimacy and connection take time, especially if you’ve been a part of really cohesive groups in the past, and even more so if the small group gathering is the only point of connection (initially, anyway) that you have with the people in your small group besides church on Sunday. Keep showing up.
  2. Your small group is not a podcast, organized and presented for your passive consumption. As much as your self-will allows, lean into the tension of being an active participant. Your group might have a “leader” or chief organizer, but it’s vibrancy will depend on the input of its members. And its vibrancy for you personally will depend on your personal input. You’ve been a part of enough cohesive groups at this point in your life to know that good community is not a lucky accident. Don’t withhold your ideas, input, and sense of leadership. Your group needs the talents and energizing initiative that only you can uniquely bring. Share your treasure.
  3. All of us are given a good handful of both cynicism and idealism in regard to our expectations for Christian community. Don’t totally ignore these, but don’t let them distract you either. Just treat them like your cell phone, and leave them in your pocket on vibrate.
  4. Invest heartily in other things besides your small group: other friendships, other groups, other hobbies and activities and disciplines. Don’t get in the mindset that your small group needs to meet your every need in order for it to be a worthwhile use of time.
  5. On the other hand, try to actually show up to your small group. Personally, when Wednesday evening rolls around, I almost never feel like going. And almost always, once I’ve done the work of showing up, I’m decisively glad that I did. It’s an absurd cycle.
  6. But sometimes you really just don’t want to go. That’s ok. Be wary of falling into a mindset of it being “just another thing you gotta do.” If it starts to become this, it’s time to reassess your motives and expectations.
  7. Small groups are, in many ways, an opportunity to go much deeper into what it means to be the “Body of Christ” than Sunday mornings allow. There is so much more space for eating, reading, serving, playing, and praying. Keep in mind that your church small group is something more than just a social gathering. As Christians, we hold onto the idea, however shakily, that it is important to be together, that our being connected through our common faith in Jesus is a point of connection distinct, somehow, from all our other life activities. Maintain an awareness of this distinct feature of spiritual community, even if you don’t “feel it” or understand it in every waking moment.
  8. To practice this belief (that spiritual community is distinct from other kinds of community, and that it’s worth your time) is to take a posture of humility. This is the kind of posture that, despite all your experiences both good and bad, allows room for the Spirit to surprise you.
  9. Allow room for the Spirit to surprise you. This is what the Spirit likes to do.

If you are new to Immanuel (or have been here a while, but, like me, suffer severely from “small-group-joining-procrastination-syndrome”), contact the small group leader of the group you’d like to potentially join (information found on our website under ‘Life Together’), or contact Beth McFadden in order to get more information about getting connected. Keep in mind that there are two new groups starting up right now, so contact Beth if you are interested in learning more about that!