The whole premise of the group life conference that ten of us were privileged to attend last month, is that community is as essential for our human heart as is oxygen and water. Why community? We need encouragement since we fail more than we are right. We may not want to admit this, but in reality, it is a struggle to stay connected with God and keep him as our centerline in our lives. We are a voice trying to cut through the culture. As we learned from the last week of the Fireproof series, there are many parasites we struggle from having overtake our lives. By having others help us stand strong, we have a better chance of overcoming these parasites and redirecting our lives to be focused on God.
Another topic during the conference was to highlight what stunts community growth. Basically, there are two facts about our American culture that seriously impacts our ability to grow healthy communities. First, for the past three years, between 45 and 46 million Americans have moved during the year. Add to that, the average American will watch approximately 28 hours of TV per week, now add in the number of hours people use computers, play video games, etc. and we have become a very disconnected society. As more and more of us grow up in this individualistic, disconnected, self-centered society, few of us will know how to actually be in an authentic community which means, few of us will be prepared to lead effectively without some assistance. That can be sobering since it would be nice to help form groups and just let them “have at it” but instead, we really need to walk with our groups and work through the typical life cycles of relationships. (Possibly the same four stages that we learned about during the Fireproof series: Honeymoon, Reality, Resentment and Rebuilding?)
Luckily, one of the best sessions given was the one on Practical Advice on Leading Small Groups. We will be able to use the techniques highlighted during this talk to help our group leaders more effectively lead groups, help their groups stay connected and most importantly, pro-actively have a goal for each time the group meets as to what the group should learn and walk away with applying to their lives.
Lastly, there were a couple of sessions that were more directed to leadership as a whole and moving forward in trying to reach a lost and broken world. It was a good reminder that conferences can be a great tool but they are only as effective as the ability to adjust and implement in regards to the specific culture you are going back to. In other words, just because it works at another church may not mean that it will work exactly as is in our church. So we need to keep reminding ourselves that “Everything is an Experiment”. Instead of looking at something as either a success or a failure, we view each change as part of a process of trying new things, evaluating and learning from the results and then incorporating them into a newer experiment to continue moving forward.
In conclusion, the key quote from the conference for me was “God will not grow our church beyond our ability to disciple people.” Yikes! It made me glad that session has already affirmed that our purpose to focus on next year will be Discipleship. I hope this brief overview has helped give some insight as to why we continue to nurture and work on strengthening our small group ministry here at FPC. It is so important to give Hope to the community we live in!