“Damon, you should dedicate your work to building your church’s relational baseline. Your community/small group structure is the best way to accomplish this work.” These encouraging words were shared with me by Rick Curtis, the Send Network Regional Director for the West.
I met Rick that morning for breakfast so I could glean from his insights. The focus of our conversation was placed upon how local churches must invest in creating space for relationships to be cultivated so they can thrive. Since we live in a very consumeristic culture, people can change churches as often as they’d like. Loyalty in a consumeristic culture is measured by who can provide what I want for the cost I want to pay. When one church doesn’t offer what you want, you can “shop” for another one.
The Problem With One-Way Churches
One-way churches can develop a countercultural approach to consumerism is by decentralizing both the rallying of the church and the relationships therein. I think the author of Hebrews says it best, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:24-25).
The author of Hebrews didn’t have just “Sunday service” in mind when they were writing this passage. The gathering of believers is not reduced to just once a week. When we decentralize the rallying of God’s people, we’re saying we have multiple opportunities to meet in various spaces together throughout our seven-day week!
The author of Hebrews also calls God’s people to “stir up one another to love and good works” in addition to “encouraging one another.” Both of these actions take place when Christians spend time together making relational deposits and withdrawals. Deposits occur when we embody Romans 12:3-13 and serve each other through the various seasons of life we endure together. Withdrawals take place when we practice Matthew 5:23-24; 7:1-5; and 18:15-35. Making withdrawals is when we deal with the conflicts, offenses, and sins amongst those we’re in meaningful relationships with. Conflict is not bad, in fact, it’s like litmus paper; it exposes the level of depth in the relationship.
My wife Elicia and I have been married for nearly 16 years. It’s safe to say, we know conflict. Yet, through all the arguments, conflicts, and disagreements we’re secure in the permanence of our relationship because we sought to resolve our conflicts. Living ‘in rhythm’ together will surface issues of comfort, pride, and the nuances of our individual stories we’ve never shared with others before. All of this produces conflict, yet when God’s people apply His word to their conflict, it provides a place of safety in knowing this relationship will not easily be abandoned or broken apart.
The Value of Community
In my opinion, community/small groups are a viable method to decentralizing the rallying and relationships of the church. They provide space for the building of the church’s relational baseline. As Rick and I departed that day, I understood the relational baseline of the church is the measure of the number of meaningful relationships a church has, not how many people show up on a Sunday. I’m not minimizing attending larger gatherings on Sunday’s, I’m saying, the Church of Jesus Christ lives where His people are, both inside and outside of buildings! I’ve shared with our people that I’d rather have 100 people gathering throughout the week in our members’ homes than 500 potentially trying out our church in a consumeristic fashion on any given Sunday morning.
As I close, I want to challenge you to say Y.E.S. to Community Groups/Small Groups for these three reasons:
Y – You were saved into a Body, a Family, and a People, not in isolation. You need the Body and the Body needs you. Togetherness and considering one another can only take place when you are there to be considered and to consider others (Romans 12:3-15).
E– Encourage those around you and allow them to encourage you, this is the goal for our time together. We live in a world where our spiritual encouragement won’t come from the systems of this world, rather it comes from the Bible and the Body (Ephesians 4:29).
S – Saints need to have created spaces for vulnerability. These spaces are more probable to be experienced in intimate settings as opposed to large gatherings where everything is touch and go. Community/Small Groups are perfect spaces for vulnerability.