A couple of years ago, my husband and I found ourselves co-leading a small group with a couple of other guys. The group had started because we’d ‘multiplied’ out of another group, which had reached over 30 names on the books. Very quickly, the head-count of our new offshoot had reached 22.
Our church had been (and still is) experiencing exponential growth – something our leaders refer to as a ‘good problem’. It had been planted as a 24-7 Prayer ‘Boiler-Room’ community, built upon a foundation of a) prayer and b) community found in small groups (or ‘collectives’). Church happens in small groups. It’s where you build your community, deepen friendships, cultivate vulnerability, accountability and honesty – and this can’t always be done brilliantly when there’s 22 people crammed into someone’s living room.
We branched off with a new group in the April, with a comfortable figure of 8 people in total – which had grown to 13 within 3 weeks. Already, we could no longer fit into my flat, and had to look to others to host us.
This taught us some very valuable lessons in hospitality. Can you host in someone else’s home? Can you lead on someone else’s turf? I now prefer to view hospitality as making someone feel welcome; accepted; involved; at home; in whatever space you are in – and now, if you invite me round your house, I’ll probably put the kettle on for you. (If you lead a small group and find yourself hosting every single week, I would strongly recommend you inviting others to open up their homes. In my experience, most people love to be asked.)
A couple in our group (now great friends) have a barn attached to their house that, having stood near-derelict for some years, they have recently converted into a beautiful meeting space – and we moved right in! Conversation went on for hours. We laughed a lot. We prayed a lot. We ate an unholy amount of chocolate hobnobs.
By September, we had 28 names to our group, and carried on in denial for as long as possible. Boy, did we love that group. People grew in friendship and in faith (and all those other clichés), and the dynamic was great… But was everyone being heard? Was everyone being looked after? Were the less extroverted people being drowned out by other voices? I felt challenged that being comfortable in my friendships with these people was taking priority over taking things in the direction that God wanted.
We’d had our next leaders lined up for months, but honestly, I moaned at God. It’s funny – you pray for church growth, but don’t actually think about what that will look like for your compact, convenient friendship groups. We expect blessing to come without any personal cost (and amazingly, it often does). My husband and I felt really invested in our collective, and didn’t want to do what felt like ripping it apart. God had to very gently tell us to get out of the way. We abandoned our nostalgia and got over ourselves. This is what we had prayed for.
Throughout the whole process I panicked a bit; I suddenly couldn’t remember how to build and grow a small group, and was worried that someone would eventually notice that we wing it (by the grace of God), week after week. But then I realised I’d never built and grown a small group. We’d only ever met up with some friends every week, got the hobnobs in, prayed, and God had done the rest. So we’re doing some more of that – and already, we’re becoming a not-so-small group.
About Rebecca Berry
‘Bex’ is part of the editorial team at CWR. She goes to Emmaus Rd church in Guildford and has led a small group with her husband, Chris, for three years. She loves pecan pie and would love to write her own book one day.