I’m preparing for our first community group back after Christmas. Our approach in the groups has changed a bit over the years. It has generally morphed in response to various problems or needs that have arisen. But I thought it might be worth sharing how we have settled on doing them today. So, in no particular order:
Centred on the sermon
A little while back we rejigged our entire liturgy so that the sermon now comes right at the beginning of the service, before anything else, and everything else we do – praying, singing, sharing testimony, notices, communion – are all now tied into what we have heard and are an active response to it. We want the Lord to speak to us first and we want everything else to be a right and proper response to him.
But we have taken a similar approach to our home groups too. Instead of wheeling out a Christian book or pre-written study, or doing an unrelated bible study in another book of the bible, we now chew over the sermon. Even helpfully and well applied sermons cannot touch on every possible application for everyone in the room. So, we use our community groups as an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings we had of the text, any things we didn’t understand the preacher was saying and to dig into the main points of application and even more pointedly apply them to the few of us in the room.
The benefit of doing this is that it reinforces what we heard on Sunday. It causes us to listen better to the sermon because we know we will talk about it later. It helps us answer the actual questions people have about the things we are looking at in the Bible, rather than inventing some questions and hoping they’re helpful. It allows us to really push into what this means for us specifically, having had some examples on Sunday, we can take it even further. And it continues the principle of the home groups themselves being an ongoing response to the Word preached.
Focused on food
Every week, we eat together at our home group. The first hour we meet together, we eat and chat. We share what is going on in our lives. Sometimes we just chew the fat. But we always spend our first hour eating and chatting together. The second hour we have our study back with the sermon or we pray for one another (or both).
We do this, partly, because it is the pattern Jesus gave us. He went eating and drinking and so do we. It is what we see the early church doing too. They ate in each other’s houses and spent time together over meals. So, maybe just in a small way, we are trying to build that into our regular routine too.
But there are lots of things people have said over food, in the context of a home, that they just wouldn’t have told us in a more formal meeting at the church. There are things we have been able to pray about, or even help to resolve, just because of something somebody said in the community group. Everybody has to eat (though not everybody is always able to make sure they can), so it makes sense to do that together and ensure there is something for everyone.
We have found mixing our groups with a range of people from different class and ethnic backgrounds has been especially helpful. Time was, before we were doing them, that you could have drawn a line down the middle of our church. On one side sat all the native English speakers; on the other, every non-native English speaker. And never would the twain mix! It really wasn’t a good situation.
These days, you would never know that happened. In part, that is due to mixing the groups. People who would not spend time with each other, were forced to not only sit a few feet away from them in someone’s lounge, but were made to eat together and even pray for one another too. The change in people’s attitudes to one another by eating and praying together was immense. It was really quite transformative in terms of how people interacted together.
I don’t believe home groups are mandated in scripture. And even if they were, I certainly don’t think this way is the only (or, necessarily, the right) way to do them. But we have found it helpful. Focus on the Word by reminding people of the sermon, eat together and make sure you mix your demographics up as much as you are able. These things, we have found, have served us well.