The way churches do small groups is about as varied as the number of churches that use the small group format for discipleship. And most small group pastors will admit that the way small groups are done is ever-changing. I have yet to meet a pastor who boasts their church knows the best way to do small groups.
Each church culture is different and the dynamics of each active church body varies from season to season. So this requires adaptation, flexibility and the willingness to try new things in order for a small group ministry to not only maintain momentum but grow.
Some churches offer small groups based on specific books in the Bible; for example a Men’s group studying Ephesians, or a Women’s group studying Proverbs.Other churches offer topical studies; for example on parenting, marriage, social justice or purity. Similarly a church may offer studies specific to certain age groups divided by gender or a certain stage in life; for instance a Mom’s group studying a popular book on Christian parenting principles or a Young Adult’s group studying healthy dating principles.
Another way to approach small groups is through multigenerational small groups. Other than during our college years there are very few times that we are surrounded with people almost exclusively the same age and in the same season of life. There is great power found in having diversity in our relationships. There is so much to learn from someone in a different season of life.
Some of the reasons that multigenerational small groups are successful:
1) They take us out of our comfort zone.
It can be fun to share stories with someone that is walking through the same life situation as you, whether it be pregnancy or retirement stories. However, there is so much wisdom to be gleaned when we take the time to listen to another person’s experience that has gone before us. And in the same way we can learn much from listening to the enthusiasm and even questions from someone a generation behind us. When we limit ourselves to relationships with people that are in the same season of life, we simply miss out. While it may feel comfortable being around people that understand they way we think and do life, there is so much growth opportunity when we take the time to intentionally invest in listening to and learning from people both older and younger than us.
2) They expose us to new perspectives.
In the same way an age difference can bring wisdom, it can also bring a new and different perspective. A mother of a newborn can certainly learn much from the perspective of a grandma that has raised a brood of her own and is now walking her own daughters through mothering. A CEO in the middle years of balancing a busy home life with a rapidly growing company can gain tremendous perspective from a retiree that is enjoying the fruits of his labor. In the same way an empty nester can receive the gift of needed perspective from a college sophomore as they try to adjust to their own children being away and spreading their wings. Shared perspective and the ebb and flow of leaning in to listen and then respectfully sharing your own heart thoughts can be such a beautiful result of multigenerational community.
3) They give us the opportunity to share our gifts.
When a small group begins to “do life” together and get to know one another, opportunities arise to serve and love. One small group member might have the gift of encouragement and use his gift to speak life giving words to other members. Another member might have the gift of hospitality and host more often and enjoy cooking for the group. Another member might be particularly handy and see a need at another member’s home and take the time to fix a sink or build a ramp. I have seen groups organically meet one another’s needs in big and small ways: everything from holding a bake sale to help fund an adoption, to walking a college student through establishing a budget, to babysitting for a busy family and provide a date night, to teaching a retiree how to Skype with her granddaughter. These are all tangible ways of building community and using your gifts. The opportunities came being plugged into a multigenerational group.
4) They teach us to celebrate differences.
It can be generally easier to make friends with people like us and going through the same life stage as us. Senior citizens generally hang out with other senior citizens, married couples with kids spend most of their free time with other married couples with kids, etc. When we do this it is easy to surround ourselves with people just like us and when we are around someone not like us the difference can seem glaring. We can quickly begin to look at life through the same lens and limit our vision of the world around us. In a multigenerational group there are usually so many different ages and perspectives represented, that as relationships develop, differences become celebrated. It is beautiful to see friendships formed and people begin to consider looking through the world through a different lens. Conversations and experiences shared widen our view of the world around us as we learn to see things through someone else’s lens.
So as churches examine the culture they are cultivating through their small group discipleship programs, there are many ways to create groups. The approach they take can change as their program grows. However, much success has been found in engaging community across ages by creating small groups intentionally with a wide range of ages and using differences in perspective and experience to promote growth and encourage community.
Have you personally experienced community with people in a different season of life than you?