This year, I found myself back moving back to an area of the United States where I previously had strong ties of a large, local church. One of the reasons those ties were so strong was the intentionality that ministry had on making sure that all members (and guests) could connect to the community through small groups. While small groups are not new, what I have found is that making the connection point relatable to the individual goes a long way to ensure that they develop socially, mentally, and spiritually.
Now that I have returned to the area, I am looking at that same fellowship’s small groups. I’ve noticed some ways they are using mobile and social to thread interactions. From conversations with folks who have moved on to other churches, I’ve found some similar points worth sharing on here as many of us look to develop or maintain small groups in our communities.
Finding Small Groups
I wish one could say that it would be easy to find small groups, but that’s just not the case. What has worked for me the best has been looking at the websites of some of the larger churches (meaning over 1,000 members) in my area and gathering information on when its small groups meet. In the area in which I live, there’s a decent mix of military, government, small family, and transient populations. This made it easy to basically pick from some common themes which emerged. Thankfully, church websites are much better for this than in times past.I was also able to leverage the social media conversations smaller churches had with people I knew. From those conversations, I was able to reach out directly to people who might have had community or missional-community leader in their bio, and simply ask if they could point me in a decent direction. Got a few coffee conversations out of this, and several invitations.
I would recommend that once you find a few groups which might be interesting, direct a communication to the person who is noted as overseeing those small groups, and see about being a guest in a few. If you are looking for a church home, or even someplace to worship while on an extended vacation, this would be an excellent way to extend the church body outward.
A potential solution here would be a small groups directory. Something like a Yelp for small groups – maybe with a bit less emphasis on the grading/ratings. This solution would require churches to submit those groups to a directory, and keep up the information of whomever the contact person is. Given the challenge some of our smaller churches might have with keeping addresses and times updated so that it could be indexed by search engines, this isn’t the best solution.
Finding a small group might be one challenge, but an issue that strikes me pretty directly is how to stay connected. Unfortunately, the best small groups for me in the community I attend happens on the weekend – when I’m usually on the road. So, I’m not able to be as regular as some others might be. Thankfully we’ve got a decent email list to keep track of each other. But there are potentially some others ways to keep people connected, especially in those travel-heavy seasons:
- Use groups on a social media platform (Facebook, Twitter Lists, WhatsApp Groups, etc.)
- Have an email list, but use a service like MailChimp to facilitate communications – this makes it easier to transfer the list when leadership changes, and gives those on the emails list the ability to subscribe/unsubscribe/share without sharing the email addresses of others in the group
- Group text messaging services – but make sure you get permission first.
Because of my unique situation (single, travels much, etc.), I considered an online-only small group. I was not sure if I could find one, but I left the door open knowing that there are online church services, and several church management platforms in use. It would make sense that there might be some churches exploring the idea of meeting in a virtual space (Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Groups, Second Life, etc.). However, if there was this concept of an online-only small group, I wanted to know that it also has some kind of local connection.
Unfortunately, I was not able to find exactly something like that. I ventured down the path of some ministries I knew from my missional-tech work and found some close-enough spaces:
- Every Student (http://www.everystudent.com/) – questions and answers, oriented towards college-aged, new believers
- Bible software forums – companies like Logos (https://community.logos.com/forums/), Accordance (https://www.accordancebible.com/forums/), and YouVersion (https://www.youversion.com/happening-now) have amazing Communites which might have started talking about software, but engage within some spiritual/theological facilitation
The biggest challenge many have with online-only groups happens when you aren’t able to connect physically. Video helps this in part, but the community life, the living in community piece, is oftentimes where small groups get their best expression. So while these can be used, I would caution to use them only for a temporary connection.
So, Can Mobile and Social Do Small Groups?
There is no reason that one couldn’t use their mobile device, or their social media connections, to find and contribute within small groups. The challenge lies on leaders to be clear as to how they will use those tools to communicate, detail what might be the appropriate means to change or disengage from the community if the main conversations follow digital threads, and not relying solely on one platform to fill all the needs of connection and communication.
For those attending small groups, you should not be afraid to use your mobile or tablet during studies, but you should be paying attention to any comments towards those devices being a distraction to others. If you are using online series to connect, you should constrain the amount of time you spend in those services (just because you are meeting your small group in Halo doesn’t mean you can spend two hours per night in “fellowship”).
Find a balance between being engaged and being notified. Lastly, don’t be afraid to dig. Small groups are the hidden gems of many communities. You will have to turn over some rocks to find some.