In our church we call them Home Groups—small groups that meet regularly so that members can read the Bible together, pray, and encourage each other as followers of Jesus Christ. They are communities within a community. They provide a safe environment for relationships to grow with a smaller number of people than you might meet at church on Sunday. In our church we’ve found them to be really key for spiritual growth and for members developing a meaningful sense of belonging. So we try to encourage as many people as possible in our church to be part of one.
Most of our groups meet in the evenings, and most of our group members work during the day. So one of the things our Home Group leaders need to contend with is the fact that people can often turn up feeling tired and distracted. Sometimes the demands of work (or other things) mean people don’t turn up at all. These realities mean group leaders also need to contend with something else. Their own emotions. Because when you’ve prepared for the Home Group, and when you’re heavily invested in it, it’s possible to find people’s distraction, or non-attendance discouraging.
Occasionally people turn up late.
I have a vivid memory of a conversation a year or so ago with a leader of one of our Home Groups. A group member (we’ll call her Rachel), came late one night. Rachel had worked a long and stressful day. She didn’t clock off till 8pm. Her husband was exhausted and had chosen to skip Home Group and get an early night. But Rachel chose to drive the 20-minute journey to join in for the brief half hour they had left. The leader who told me the story could have been frustrated that the group had not been a high enough priority for Rachel to arrive on time. Instead, they found encouragement.
It’s true that some people are late to Home Groups or miss them altogether because they are lazy, or ill-disciplined, or just don’t value them very highly. And Home Group leaders need to work out how to respond and pray for them. But many who struggle to get to Home Group are like Rachel. They love their group and the people in it. They want to be there. They want to grow as Christians and they want to help others grow too. But life is complex, with many competing responsibilities. Sometimes it’s just not possible to meet every commitment perfectly. Such people will often get to the end of a wearying day and, instead of going home and plonking themselves on the couch, choose to invest in learning and love. I love it when they do.
I have noticed over the years a tendency amongst Christian leaders to default too quickly to frustration when members of churches don’t meet their ideal expectations. Too often we can fall into the trap of measuring a person’s spiritual maturity by how well they tick the boxes we ask them to tick (like attending church and Home Group regularly). We can fail to show the kind of empathy and compassion that really grasps how tricky it is in people’s lives to juggle all the competing demands. This kind of frustration erodes the joy of leading, and inevitably discourages those who see it in our eyes or hear it in our words (we don’t hide it as well as we think). So when people like Rachel turn up late to Home Group (or something similar) we really ought to ask ourselves, is it possible there’s something here to rejoice in? Something to be grateful for? Something to love?
There’s another question here as well. When someone like Rachel turns up late for Home Group, what does it say about the thing she’s investing in? If it’s unlikely that people would make this effort for many other kinds of meetings, why is it that people would place such a high value on Christian fellowship and learning from the Bible? Is it possible that there’s something uniquely precious about Christian love and Christian learning? I think there is.
Simon Flinders is the Senior Pastor of Northbridge Anglican Church in Sydney and believes that the local church is one of the most beautiful things God has made.
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