Recently I had a conversation with a friend who is a pastor who oversees a ministry focusing on small groups. He is a good friend and over the past few years we have had some incredible conversations around the importance of small groups/discipleship groups and helping people to know and grow closer to Christ and grow in relationship with one another. I think these two things makes up everything that we are created and called to be in loving God and loving others.
We were discussing the upcoming church calendar year, and how the Fall we always see a boost in group interest and attendance. This is where the conversation began to get interesting. As we talked my friend said, “I have too many people interested in groups right now that I have no place to put them because most of my groups are too good that I don’t want to potentially mess up their group dynamic with someone that doesn’t fit.” I was floored and I pushed back on him a little bit here. I said that small groups are the perfect place for everyone to feel connected and loved, and there shouldn’t be prerequisites to fitting into a group. I firmly believe that all small groups/discipleship type groups are “come as you are” because that is how God receives us.
We have been shown God’s grace and mercy while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 says just this: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Discipleship is messy. But I believe that grace doesn’t have prerequisites. And neither should small groups and discipleship type groups. Now, I want to clarify that many churches have gender/affinity specific ministries, and I am not saying something against that. I firmly believe that affinities have their place, and women’s groups, men’s groups, age-based groups have their place. My friend and I had a wonderful discussion about group healthy and placing “unhealthy” people in groups and disrupting group dynamics. At the end of the day, my philosophy and methodology for small groups just differs a little bit from my friend’s. And that’s ok.
God loves us as we are, and I believe small groups are a perfect place to show God’s love, grace and mercy for people as they are just as God has done for us. Why wouldn’t a small group be a good place for all people to grow closer to Christ? Small groups should be messy because relationships and life is messy. That’s what the church is all about! We have the opportunity to enter into the mess and trenches with other brothers and sisters in Christ and do life together and walk alongside others wherever they may be! Small groups and discipleship groups shouldn’t be a place that is “come as you are if…” It’s come as you are and let us show God’s love to you. When churches talk about connecting, belonging, etc. this is what it is all about. The world tells us to be comfortable, to have it our way, to not step out from our perfect little worlds. God calls us to step out of our comfort into His loving grace and be embraced and loved by His church and people as you are.
My hope is that all churches and ministries are lovingly welcoming people in and helping them to truly connect and be loved. If you’re a pastor or lead/serve in a ministry at your church my hope is you are always finding ways to help people to enter into your community that shows them that they are loved and helps them to know Christ more. Don’t be the gatekeeper and set rules on who can enter and who cannot. God’s grace does not have prerequisites and neither should our ministries and small groups.