Okay, I debated whether to post this but there was indeed something therapeutic about writing these experiences out. Small group experiences. We’ve had nothing to do with small groups for several years now, and I think you’ll see why. The below experiences are the truth. However, I think some of them could be developed into Christian “Onion” (satire) stories. These experiences are from 5 small groups at 2 churches over a few years time. And by the way, for any new reader who could stumble upon this, I strongly believe that Christians need close relationships with one another. I know it is possible for small groups to function well. But from our experience they are plagued with problems, and traditional Bible study groups or Sunday school classes have proved better. Here goes…
In one group, the TV was a problem! The TV would stay on as long as possible, not turned off until it was absolutely necessary because it was hindering the group. Sometimes the TV was not turned off, but the volume turned down. The group leader would keep looking at the TV to see what was happening (typically sports) even though the volume was low. I’m serious. It was very distracting. Uh, if TV (sports) is more important than small group, maybe you should not host/lead a group. Or maybe you should lead the group on a different night than the critical TV programming!
One group, more so than others, was primarily a superficial socialization club. The group began at 6pm, and there was socialization for a full hour or even slightly more. Then there was about 15 minutes of vague sermon discussion followed by logistic discussion (babysitting, etc as the group had a lot of children), and with 1 or 2 minutes left there was a quick request for prayer concerns. We thought the lengthy hour of socialization would only last the first couple weeks to help people get to know each other. But this went on for 3 months! After 3 months we casually suggested that socialization time should be decreased, and more time allotted for the spiritual. We were told that the group had to remain primarily social for 2 years, and after 2 years it could move into a deeper spiritual dynamic. I’m serious. No joke. We politely left the group after this, as we had no interest in a socialization club for 2 years.
Oh, and regarding the above group, we were assigned to it. This group was all young married couples (and one single mom). Most were in their late 20’s, and all the kids were under age 5. Including 2 sets of twins! And they put us in this group?! My spouse and I were about 40 at the time, married many years, but no children. We were the odd ones out. What were they thinking putting us in this group?
In a couple groups, it was evident that everyone already had established Christian friendships outside of group. They had no time for new friendship. Apparently they only joined a group because it was the church expectation. Small group was simply a slot on the calendar one night a week; their involvement perfunctory. But my spouse and I were lonely, isolated and seeking genuine Christian friendship and spiritual connection. None was to be found. (We did try, and took initiative. We did not simply wait for people to reach out to us.)
At the one church, there was a big emphasis on being in a small group near your home, so that everyone in the group was truly doing life together and would be likely to intersect in the community. You were assigned a group, and apparently the pastor in charge of this failed map reading in school. He sent us to 2 groups 30 minutes from our house, and we knew there were groups only 5 -10 minutes from us. What the…?! And the 2 groups 30 minutes away were in an unfamiliar part of town where we literally never went. We brought this up to the said pastor, but our request denied for closer groups. He claimed they were close to us! – Uh, we know where we live!!
In 2 of the groups, after 10-15 minutes of socialization, the men and women divided into separate locations in the home. I’m not keen on that and prefer mixed sex groups, but regardless, the problem was more than that. In the one group, well, how do I even describe how this woman led us? No prepared lesson. No sermon discussion. She would…ramble on for about 30 minutes about her life that week, and it was like emotional babble, and occasionally she would say something about “God helping her” or ask us a vague spiritual question. The leader in the other group essentially led us in gossip and asked prying questions. I am all for being real, but this was not being real but inappropriately intrusive. Sharing should happen naturally, and not be forced.
Finally, in one group…While the leader was a nice Christian guy, he seemed excessively busy and overwhelmed by life, without proper time to lead a group. Communication was problematic. Communication was an issue with another group as well. The leaders were inaccessible. E-mails or calls would not be answered. Don’t misunderstand – we were NOT contacting the leaders all the time! But a leader should be at least somewhat accessible. And if a leader has no time to communicate, perhaps someone else in the group should be the “contact” person instead – to respond to questions or concerns.
Well, I guess those speak for themselves? Or am I too picky? Except for a couple, we gave these groups 3 – 6 months. So please don’t think we were quick quitters, without the needed patience for community to develop.
Maybe these examples could be used to help trouble shoot potential small group problems ahead of time.
Maybe small group leaders need to be more carefully chosen.
Maybe groups need to be monitored better by pastoral staff.
Maybe group leaders need better training, and the trainers should assume nothing – such as assuming that the TV in the home will be turned off!
I realize that life in community will never be easy.
But most of the above problems should not have been…