The years are adding up. Decades now. Involvement in small groups ministry has been a constant in my life for some time. But this has made me nowhere near an expert. For that, you’d need to connect with the likes of Steve Gladen, Rick Howerton, Carolyn Taketa, or Lori Hartshorn, to name a few. What I will do though, in this post, is pass on a few observations that I think are key.
Loneliness is making headlines. In the UK the government names a minister to tackle the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness. Check this headline from the Globe and Mail. “Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming” And also this from the CBC. Almost a quarter of the population say they have no one to talk to. There is no mistaking it. Loneliness is a huge issue with serious implications.
Something can be learned from the area of social neuroscience. Dr. Susan Pinker writes and talks about the effects of social interaction on our bodies and brains. Social interaction is a greater predictor of your longevity than whether or not you exercise or smoke; greater than diet, lifestyle or marital status. She says this and more in her persuasive TED talk. Face to face contact releases neurotransmitters that foster trust, reduce stress, kill pain, and induce pleasure.
These realities highlight how critical it is to have church structured in such a way that makes it easy for people to connect in meaningful, soul nurturing ways. Gathering in rows for worship and teaching meets some of our needs. But unless we can also gather in circles to share our stories, to know and be known, a real opportunity is missed. It’s all too easy to walk into a Sunday service and out again without any conversation beyond small talk.
There is no way to stick handle through the Bible without confronting the “one another passages”. There are almost 60 of them in the New Testament alone. They imply connection, physical proximity and conversation. Mark Howell posts about this on his blog.
“The primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another.” Andy Stanley
“When everyone is sitting in rows…you can’t do any one anothers.” Andy Stanley
So, building a case for the value of a small group ministry is easy. But this I’ve also learned – right out in my backyard. I’m a gardener. I’m at my happiest when I’m out puttering around in my garden. Although I’m not an expert gardener, I’ve learned this: I can’t just stuff some seeds in the ground and expect my veggies to thrive. Regular tending is needed. That means being physically out there in the garden pulling weeds, watering, adding compost and fertilizer. Developing a small group ministry is no different. It means recruiting leaders, selecting resources, handing out encouragement, celebrating stories and providing training. Just to name a few.
The good news is…. It’s doable.
About Ralph Cann
Ralph Cann lives with his wife Cheryl in St. John’s. He thrives on coffee and conversation. If you’re up for it he’d welcome a chance to learn from you, hear your story, and enjoy a cappuccino with you.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org