At first it might seem like these groups don't have much to do with church. But people who gather to pursue shared interests can build meaningful relationships that can end up drawing them closer to Christ. And many people who wouldn't attend a Bible study or prayer group would be open to participating in a special interest group, where they could discover more about God naturally through the friendships they make there.
Here are some ways your church can build small groups around shared interests:
- Encourage people in your congregation to consider their interests and experiences, then think and pray about how they could uniquely contribute to other people's lives through a small group. Ask people to dream about what topic they would choose for a small group if they could choose any topic at all.
- Give people freedom to be creative with their ideas and to risk implementing them. Rather than designing a small group agenda based just on your pastor's ideas or the tradition your church has followed before, allow people to try new ideas, even if they fail. Realize that it's only by opening the congregation up to new experiences that it can grow to its fullest potential. View the unique personalities and diverse backgrounds of those in your congregation as gifts that can enrich your church.
- Value quality more than quantity. Be more concerned with building meaningful relationships rather than building big programs or achieving a certain number of new church members.
- Establish an effective yet simple system to administer your small groups. Encourage all church members to participate as God leads them, and commit to supporting rather than controlling them. Have an application process that includes a personal interview, references, and a background check. Hold an orientation meeting and clearly outline responsibilities and expectations. Establish small group coaches to guide small group leaders. But don't require small group leaders to have had prior experience leading small groups. Instead, conduct ongoing job training while they serve.
- Make love the ultimate goal of your small groups. Strive to build the kind of relationships with God and each other that will foster genuine love between you. Share in various aspects of each other's lives, attending each other's weddings and funerals, celebrating holidays together, visiting each other in the hospital, enjoying evenings out together, and more. Form a life history together as part of God's family.
Adapted from Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century: Empowering Your Church to Build Community through Shared Interests, copyright 2002 by Ted Haggard. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com, 1-800-251-4000.
Ted Haggard is the senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Co. He founded the church in his basement in 1985, and it's now the largest church in Colorado, with 8,700 members. He serves as an editorial advisor for Ministries Today magazine, and as a board member for Mission America, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Global Harvest Ministries. Ted, his wife Gayle and their five children live in Colorado Springs, Co.
If you could start a small group on any topic, what would it be, and why? Do you participate in a small group? Do you and others in your small group share similar interests? If so, how does sharing experiences you all enjoy help you build bonds with other group members, and how does it help you grow closer to Christ? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.