Part 2 of this “mini-odyssey” gives a few more anecdotes about small(ish) groups that have been part of my Christian journey.
In 2005, having moved to CO for more graduate school, there was a large group of “young marrieds” in the church to which my wife and I attached ourselves. One of the staff ministers and his wife led a very serious, intentional walk through marriage-related topics that required some commitment and confidentiality. I remember some of those discussions (as well as my own inability to commit fully, due to grad school requirements), and I still have those materials.
In comparison to many other groups, there was a ratcheted-up sense of intimacy in this one, yet the group was in most ways one of the standard grouping of regular, weekly programs—programs that are part-and-parcel of 99,999 of every 100,000 churches. This group was in one analysis a sub-church, but its ability to function as church was limited by the overlaid structure. In other words, no participants in that group would likely have felt that it was their church, despite their commitment to, and openness within, the smaller, more focused group.
Was good accomplished? Of course. Was the good as significant as it could have been, had this group’s identity been conceptualized differently? I think not.
There was a retreat in mid-summer once, and that time helped some of us grow closer. But I wish this group had become a self-contained, discrete unit on the level of “church” — meeting together with heightened intentionality, based on shared commitment and pursuits, regular communication, and devotion to God’s desires.¹
Also during our time in Colorado, a few men and I met at 6:30 a.m. on Thursdays for some devotional, meditative reading in the lectio divina tradition (no longer an interest of mine), and the lead minister of the church gave me a key to the building in recognition of this group’s organic arising and my taking the lead.
Still another important point along the way—more significant for my purposes in this series—was our opportunity for serious training, along with two other couples, toward cell group leadership. We began a cell group with two other couples and a single male, meeting bi-weekly for nearly a year . . . while four of us also continued in another small group, the latter of which functioned with somewhat less transparency and incorporated somewhat less serious Bible study (but with very good hospitality and a sense of belonging). Relationships from both these groups continue to this day.
The effectiveness of all these small groups was notable, but the potential was also limited because the groups were cogs in the wheel of regular church “stuff.”
Next: New York groups
¹ In expressing this wish, I do not preclude the possibility that some of the people experienced more of those benefits than I. Nor am I intending to rule out that being a part of a small-group “church” means you can’t also be a part of a larger “church.”