Starting this Sunday, we're inviting everyone who is connected with our faith community to participate in one of several small groups.
The nuts and bolts are fairly easy to describe. There will be groups meeting at the following times: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Monday evening, Tuesday evening, Thursday afternoon, and Thursday evening. We're asking you to attend one each week, but we aren't requiring that you attend the same one each week, if you would like to explore or if your schedule is challenged.
The groups will last about 90 minutes, though each group has some flexibility with the time.
The groups will welcome children, and find some ways to include them in at least part of the interaction. By the way, the kids will not be locked in the closet the rest of the time- the group will make sure they're cared for.
There will be groups for older youth and young adults also, and those will be offered in connection with our Pulse ministry, beginning on October 18.
As with any change, this will take some getting used to, and there will undoubtedly be questions. Please feel free to ask them!
But why would we have small groups? Over the next couple of weeks, I'll try to answer, and invite you to a thoughtful conversation about what it means to be God's people and to live out our mission in the world today.
For today, let me start with a reminder that followers of Jesus, and Jewish people of faith before them, have always kept a healthy balance between individual expression of faith and the intentional practice of community in small groups.
In Judaism, while we often think about the temple in Jerusalem and the big festivals of Jewish faith, the smaller group of the synagogue was more central in the lives of most Jewish people. Think about it. The laws of Judaism required at least three visits annually to Jerusalem by the males of the family, though sometimes those visits included other family members. During those visits (Passover, The Feast of Booths, and the Feast of Tabernacles- Deuteronomy 16:16) sacrifices would be offered and rituals of faith carried out at the temple. But the remainder of the year, especially for people living outside of Jerusalem, faith was expressed in the smaller groups of the synagogues.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus we see a similar pattern. People sometimes point to Acts 2 and speak of the thousands that converted to the Christian faith on the occasion of Pentecost. We forget that this was Jerusalem during one of the three Jewish festivals, with people gathered from around the country and from other places as well. Think of it like attending a huge conference featuring well-known Christian speakers and musicians. This was an important experience that was part of faith, but it was not the norm or the more common daily experience of Jesus followers. Instead, in Jerusalem for those who lived there and around the world for those who returned home, early followers gathered in small communities, most often meeting in homes.
We appreciate the incredible freedoms we have to express our faith in large and small groups. We won't stop gathering as a larger group on Sunday mornings to worship God. At the same time, part of the reason for emphasizing small groups as a church is to stay grounded in the core practices of Christian faith. In a world that is increasingly out of balance, the church sometimes imitates the world. There is too much to do, and there are too many choices to make. While our congregation will always have a number of opportunities to meet, connect, serve, and grow, we are taking a stand on the two practices that are most essential to our Christian faith, in addition to the life-long journey of personal discipleship. We gather together corporately to worship. We intentionally practice community in smaller groups. Out of these will emerge opportunities to serve, grow, build relationships, invite friends, etc.
I'll have more to say about this over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I hope you'll connect with one of our groups.