Ok, I promised that I'm not anti-small group, and I'm not. But I do very much believe that the church should not be comprised of small groups. Rather, small groups should be an outflow of the church.
See the difference?
It's essentially this, to use other terms I've been using this week: instead of showing up on Sunday morning and "going to church" with people just like you (with your small group), you show up on Sunday morning and discover in the church people just like you. Or enough like you that you can take a little journey together.
And that's what I think small groups are, or ought to be. They ought to be traveling packs. They ought to be groups of persons who come together for an adventure, or for a journey. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about something very general - women taking a journey with other women, for example, or teens with other teens - or something very specific - something more akin to our recovery or support small groups. The point is that the group is moving somewhere, doing something, going somewhere. Together.
More than anything, I think this is the danger sign for our small groups: when they stop moving. The small groups that have been together for very long times are particularly susceptible to this. They come together...and think that's a small group meeting. They come together...and then go home. They come together...and they don't go anywhere. They don't do anything. They don't move any more. They just...come together.
A good small group is always on the move. That doesn't mean there's not time to pause and rest; sometimes, you have to stop for awhile and set up camp somewhere. But it's just camp. It's tents and bonfires and weary feet. It's sharing bug spray and roasting marshmallows. It's always talking about where you're going to go next, and when you're going to take that next step. It's never stopping, clearing the land, pouring a foundation, building a house. It's camp. Because a good small group is made of travelers, not settlers.
Never settle into a small group.
To go back to another metaphor I've been using this week - if small groups done poorly are kiddie tables set up around the Upper Room, then small groups done well are more...salt and pepper shakers. They're seasons. They're little splashes of new flavor when life needs a certain little something. When life needs a certain little...
Did you know salt is not a flavor? It's not a taste in its own self. It's a flavor enhancer. It helps bring out something new in the meal. That's what small groups are meant to be. They're flavor enhancers. They bring out something new in the bread and the blood of Jesus. They help us taste something new of God.
Small groups help us taste the goodness of God when our season of life requires a little goodness. Small groups help us taste the mercy of God when our season of life is self-critical and self-conscious. Small groups help us taste the grace of God when our season of life is difficult and harsh. Small groups help us taste the joy of God when our season of life is steeped in celebration. Small groups help us taste the community of God when our season of life is lonely. There's a small group for every season, and that small group is meant to be salt. It's meant to help you taste something new of God.
That's what a small group done well does. Of course, if you eat only salt....well, that's a small group done poorly.
So no, I'm not at all anti-small group. At least, not when small groups are done well. There's something incredible about being part of a traveling party, about going on a grand adventure with some others who are up for the same kind of journey. But you have to be traveling. You have to be moving. You have to be having an adventure, going on a journey. A little salt does something amazing, in the right doses, to the right food. It brings out this entirely new flavor that you didn't know was hiding in there. But you have to have the right doses, and the right food. If you're not first feasting on Jesus, then the salt does little to bring out the flavor of God in this season. That's what happens with small groups done well.
It's what happens when you go to church not with people like you, but you go to church and discover people like you. And you decide to do a little bit of this life together.