For most of us, life can get pretty hectic at times. I want to help us think through how we can stay connected to the life of the local church even when life is crazy. First, let me describe one of the primary ways we connect believers in our church family. Second, I’ll share some ideas about how people stay connected to these groups even when their lives get hectic.
One of the primary ways we connect believers in our church family is through community groups. Community groups meet once a week for two hours and are open to whoever wants to attend. We try to follow the group discipleship model exemplified by the Jerusalem Christians in Acts 2: we eat together, we study God’s Word together, and we pray together. During the first hour of community group, we share a potluck meal and catch-up with one another. During the second hour, our group leader leads us in an interactive Bible study, and then we close by praying for one another.
My family and I have been part of a community group for the past twelve years. Over that time, I’ve found that there are a few components that seem to make community groups healthier. For instance, groups should meet at least twice/month, and ideally every week, in order to build close relationships and mutual trust. Also, it’s important that groups meet at the same time, at the same place, on the same night every week. Otherwise, the group loses momentum. And it’s almost impossible for new people to attend, because they never know when or where you’re meeting. Consistency is key.
Also, healthy community groups should be outward-looking groups. That means that they are constantly inviting people to join them. Otherwise, community groups can plateau, lose their sense of mission, or turn into cliques. Ideally, a community group will grow spiritually and numerically, and then multiply. Committing to multiplication means that you won’t be with all of your close Christian friends all the time—but that’s okay—that’s what heaven is for. Right now, there are new people to reach for Jesus.
When Life is Hectic
But what if your kids are in sports? Or, you work during the evenings? Or you have a rotating work schedule? Or, you’ve got a newborn? Or, you’ve got six kids? Or, there’s not a community group near you? Or, your community group is inconsistent? Here are some ideas that I hope will help you participate in a community group, even when life is hectic:
1) If you have any say in your work schedule, then priority #1 is to try to get work off on Sunday morning, or whenever your church family meets for corporate worship. Priority #2 is to try to get work off, or to try to get off work early, whichever night your community group meets. If you have a rotating work schedule, and you’re able to be at community group every other week, then do that. If you have no say in your work schedule, and you always work on Sunday mornings, then look for a church that offers an evening or midweek service. For followers of Jesus, the answer can’t be not to be part of a local church. Further, if your work schedule is so busy that it is hindering your relationship with your spouse, family, or church, then you might consider looking for another job. That might sound crazy at first, but all of us have to prioritize our lives and make sure that our most important priorities get the most attention. What’s the point of excelling at work if it comes at the cost of your marriage? Or your kids? Or your spiritual health? Or your family’s spiritual health? As much as it’s up to you, find a job that gives you some freedom to keep your most important priorities first.
2) If you can’t find a community group that fits your schedule, then try to find out if there are other people in your church whose schedule matches yours. Then, you can start a new community group together. Then advertise your group to the rest of the church, because maybe there are other people in the same boat who would like to be part of a group like yours.
3) What if your child is in sports? Does every community group offered by your church conflict with practice time or game time? Then, think through some options. Do you have to be the one who picks up your child from practice, or can another family bring him/her home or to your group? If you can’t make it to all of community group, are you able to attend one of the two hours? Can you at least come for dinner? Or can you make it for the Bible study and prayer? If your child has sports several days a week, is it possible for him/her to miss a practice for religious reasons?
4) What if you’ve got a bunch of kids? If you can, bring them to community group! You will need to talk with your community group leader about different childcare options. If, for a season, it’s easiest to keep your kids at home, then you can have a sitter watch your kids for a couple hours. Whether you bring your kids or leave them at home, you’re likely going to need to invest some money into childcare so that you can participate in a community group. And if you have a child who requires special attention, then you’ll probably need to pay a little more to have a one-on-one helper…but that’s a very worthy investment! Currently, we split the cost of childcare with a few other families, and our family pays $40/month…and it’s totally worth it!
Now, what if you have a newborn or toddler whom you want to be with you? Bring him/her? Church life is noisy. Period. I love the sound of crying babies during the church service and community group, because crying babies are a sign of a healthy, growing church! Obviously, if your baby cries so much that he/she continues to be a distraction, then you need to be sensitive to that and take the baby into another room. If it becomes too stressful on you personally to bring your baby, and you have no other childcare options, then you might decide to wait a few months to see if your child acclimates better to social situations like these. Also, if you’re a new parent, then let your community group serve you! Don’t be afraid to tell them how they can help you and pray for you! That’s what community groups are for!
5) During cold/flu season, it can be more difficult for community groups to meet as consistently—especially if the community group host home and/or leader is sick. If at all possible, identify at least one alternate host site and one alternate discussion leader. In our church, we ask that community group discussion leaders be members of our church who agree with our church statement of faith. If nobody else in your group is able to host, then contact the church office about meeting at the church. Even if you only meet for the Bible study part of community group, that’s better than not meeting at all! Additionally, switching up the host site now and then, as well as the discussion leader, provides a great opportunity for someone else to serve and to grow.
6) Consider all the meeting time options available to you during the week. Have you truly exhausted every possible time slot? Are you able to meet for breakfast on Saturday morning? What about brunch? What about breakfast on Sunday morning? How about during the Sunday school hour at your church? How about lunch after church? What about Sunday evening? What about every other Friday? What about late start Wednesday mornings? Obviously, we all have preferences about when we want to meet, but can we negotiate our schedules a bit in order to be in a community group with others?
7) If you decide that there’s absolutely no way that you can join an existing community group or be part of starting a new group, then re-evaluate in 3 months. Don’t tell yourself that you just can’t do a community group this year. In our church, you can start attending a community group at any point during the school year. Maybe January and February don’t work for you, but you can start in March. I encourage you not to view community groups as an optional activity for you to participate in, but as an essential way that you and your family share a common life in Christ with others in addition to Sunday worship services.
Let me conclude with two final thoughts.
First, beware of your own capacities and boundaries, and don’t compare yourself to others. We are all wired differently, we are all fighting different battles, and we don’t want to overexert ourselves to the point of harming ourselves or our families. The whole point of community groups is to encourage you, and for you to encourage others as you follow Jesus together. If you need to take a breather for a season, do it. Just don’t drift away from the flock.
Second, involvement in a community group requires discipline and prioritization. There are many nights when I don’t feel like going. Fortunately, I host a group, so I can’t get out of it! And over the past twelve years, there have been very few nights when I wish I had stayed home. If you’ve never made a list of your most important physical and spiritual priorities for you and your family, then I encourage you to do so. Then, order your life around making those priorities happen, rather than vice versa. Most of us make time to do what we most want to do.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to lead yourself and your family to live a shared life with other followers of Jesus!
Dan Hallock is lead pastor at Cedarhome Baptist Church in Stanwood, Washington. He and his wife, Cindy, have three great kids: Jackson, Grace, and Josiah.