Do you live in Mitford?
Mitford is a fictional pastoral mountain town, full of idiosyncratic church ladies and charming, rascally little boys, created by novelist Jan Karon. While Mitford exists only in the mind of the novelist and her readers, she based her creation on the real life pastoral mountain town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
I don't live in Mitford. I don't live in Blowing Rock, either.
I live in what feels to me like a small town, when compared to my previous hometowns of Santa Monica, California; Detroit, Michigan; and Salt Lake City, Utah. The population of our combined metropolitan area here in Texas totals about 175,000. I continually find wonder in the many connections found here, from friends who know one another to the ease of word of mouth referrals.
But this small town really stretches the meaning of small. I love the idea of life in a really small town, one with 2000 occupants. Or maybe only 500. I imagine knowing everyone and being known; neighbors helping out upon the birth of a baby or unexpected illness; pastors and doctors making house calls.
|A church building in idyllic Blowing Rock, NC|
Community Outside Mitford
The pace of life and the size of my city conspire to remove the small-town feel from my life. I have sociable neighbors, but we all move in our own social circles. I attend a great church; but with 5 services, each seating about 300 people, it becomes difficult to know anyone well.
How does one find real small-town community in a world like mine?
In any community of more than 200 people, cells begin to develop: smaller groups that look out for one another and function as a mini community within the larger one. Many churches foster these smaller communities with elective groups, designed for 7-15 members, that meet outside the large church meeting times. These groups might be called Home Groups, because they typically meet in homes; Life Groups, because they are organized around common life interests such as sports, pets, kids, marriage, or a Bible study book; or Small Groups, because they represent a complimentary facet to the Large Group weekend and evening services.
We may be convicted to change as a result of something we hear in a weekend message, but lasting life change happens in the context of Small Groups.
In my incredibly scientific estimation, Small Group involvement counts for 50% of the church experience. When the church is larger than 200 people, the pastor simply cannot appropriately shepherd everyone. Here I present my three fact-filled reasons why I believe this statistic.
Spiritual Growth: In Small Group, individuals are known. Their struggles, their dreams, their spiritual growth are all fostered as they have a chance to interact with others about what they are learning along their journey.
Connection: In Small Group, individuals are noticed. People are by nature relational. Those who come only to Sunday services may end up moving on after a few months, not understanding why they can't seem to connect with this church. But those who seek out and find a Small Group, gain a sense of ownership and belonging within the church family. This increases when an alert small group leader contacts them after missing a meeting or two, to ask directly, "How are you doing?"
Care: In Small Group, individual needs can be identified and met. Babies, illness, car trouble, and all variety of prayer needs can be addressed in the context of this size group, thus freeing up the pastor to pursue his direct line to God for next Sunday's message.
I have been part of Small Groups at different churches off and on since 1997, and have led several times since 2004. This semester my husband and I are corralling two groups under one roof, as the men read John Eldredge's Wild at Heart and the women read the companion book Captivating. Over the years we have learned that the content is seldom as critical as the relationships formed through the experience of meeting together every week or two.
The investment to join a Small Group returns dividends in spiritual growth, connection, and spiritual care.
I would love to hear what Small Groups look like in your church community. Have you taken the step to get involved? If not, what's holding you back?