Small groups are nothing new to Sunnyside nor is the idea of incorporating a regular participation in small groups a ground breaking idea by any means especially within United Methodism. Small groups for the purpose of discipleship and fellowship are the fundamental starting point of Wesleyan Spirituality. John Wesley organized the Methodist movement around varying forms of small groups that he called Societies, Classes, and Bands. These groups were designed to deepen the participant’s relationship with Jesus Christ and to send them out for works of mercy and justice by fostering personal and communal attentiveness to what he called the means of grace (prayer, fasting, the sacraments, studying the scriptures, worship, and service). We walk a fine line of balancing our commitment to personal growth with our commitment to doing justice and mission and to be true to our Wesleyan Heritage is to acknowledge that personal relationship with God must be held in balance with ministries of social justice. Heavy engagement in social justice divorced from spiritual growth is a recipe for burnout, while spiritual growth divorced from social justice is an inactive faith.
The purpose then of small groups is to help participants carve out the space in their lives to practice the disciplines in a way that is more intimate than corporate worship. They become a space to engage deeply in the word of God, to pray with others, and to grow deeper in relationship with God and with others. There was a period in our family’s life when we attended a small group consistently for five years. I can count on one hand the number of times we missed a small group meeting. We would spend weeks studying a book of the bible, or reading a book together, or simply coming together to share a meal and pray for one another. Those who participated in this small group attended Sunday worship on a more regular basis and became active leaders in the church who were actively seeking ways to be in ministry. What our small group learned was that while at first a regular meeting seemed to be a daunting idea, we came to a point where meeting weekly was as natural as and important to us as eating. Eventually the group came to an end but that had more to do with job changes and members moving out of town. To this day however, there is within those who participated all those years a deep connection and attentiveness to one another’s spirit.
This fall at Sunnyside we will be introducing a concentrated effort to create opportunities for relationships with one another and with God through small group ministries. We will organize our small groups into three, 10 week sessions throughout the year. Think about this in terms of trimesters where each trimester you’ll have the opportunity to join a new small group that studies a new topic or book each time. The trimesters will begin the first week of October, February, and June. Each group will be capped at 15 participants and participants will need to sign up in advance and commit to the entire 10 weeks. (of course folks will miss a meeting here and there, but the point is, it will be a commitment we’re looking for). Our goal for the first trimester this fall is to have 30 participants, which for our small church is not an insignificant number but I think we can do it!
Information about this new opportunity will be coming in August but I felt it was important to start casting the vision now so that all can begin to be in prayer about fitting this opportunity into your lives and your family’s lives. Through this new small group ministry we will be creating space to grow deeper in relationship with one another and with God. Is this deepened relationship something that you desire?
Next week I will share Part Two of this series talking about another level of deepened relationship through membership, although we are not going to call it membership anymore. We are going to call it partnership. Read more next week to find out why and how we are going to do this.