by Tori Haugeberg, Director of Community Formation at New City Church
This past April, New City Church engaged in an exciting experiment: ten acquaintances gathered weekly to share a meal and a little piece of their lives as we launched our first-ever small group!
We titled the group, “Test the Waters,” because we spent the month exploring different models of connection and conversation as we tried to really listen to our community’s relational and spiritual needs. This experience generated many salient gleanings and we’d like to share some with you!
1. Small groups fulfill an important need to slow down and truly see one another. They provide an opportunity to enact a weekly rhythm of care and concern that we may not otherwise have. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised how many people attended—particularly as many of the folks had not met prior to this. While most of us are quite busy and engage in many social settings, I realized that many do not have a space quite like this, where the entire goal is to prioritize relationships and check in with one another.
2. Small groups are most effective when they stay SMALL! This one may seem obvious, but after starting off our meetings with ten people, we quickly realized that there was not enough time for everyone to share in-depth in a group this size. Going forward, we will cap each group off at six in order to ensure space and time for vulnerability, follow-up questions, and valuable spontaneous conversation.
3. Individual sharing and collaboration are equally important. At our first meeting, we tried out a model where everyone responded to a guided question followed by an opportunity to offer encouragement and feedback by writing a personal note. The goal of this model was to keep responses thoughtful and brief, however, we found this structure ultimately stifling and unnatural. There was far more energy when the group had time to ask questions and collaborate verbally about one another’s responses.
4. Food brings us together! Some of the most enjoyable portions of the evening were often those unplanned-the spontaneous, comical and heartfelt conversations that arose as shared a meal together. There is something deeply sacred and communal (communion-like, in fact) about the sharing of a meal and the space that is created around the table. It is no wonder that Jesus spent so much of his time on earth sitting and eating with folks! A bond that cannot be contrived starts to form when we regularly break bread with one another.
5. Most of us can relate to one another far more than we ever imagined. It often takes time, however, and intentional conversation to realize our similarities and the powerful ways we can support each other along the journey. Every week, we remarked at the surprising amount of overlap and generative themes that emerged as we shared from our individual experiences. Of course, we also celebrated our particularities—the differences that truly are differences—but even across those particularities we found common ground. Small groups carve out space for us to remember that we are not alone, that many can relate to our struggles and triumphs, and that we do not have to carry any burden by ourselves. Thanks be to God!
All in all, the “Test the Waters” group was a tremendous success. We started small groups because we had a hunch that God would show up when people open up their hearts, laugh together, and share food—and God most certainly did! We can’t wait for the next round!
*If you are interested in joining a future small group, please contact me, Tori Haugeberg, at email@example.com