The Value of Small Group Diversity

We live in a society that thrives on niches.

Marketing departments spend millions-of-dollars a year on targeted-advertising. Politicians struggle for ways to attract votes from minority groups and religious organizations. The internet itself is a bastion for like-minded people who can’t find folks with similar interests in real life. The world is a very niche-y place indeed, and it’s not surprising that our churches have become niche-oriented, as well.

Niches aren’t bad. In fact, they can be quite good; especially in regards to ministry. There’s a lot of healing that takes place when we are able to share with people who can not only identify with our struggles, but have also lived through them. But I fear that we’re quickly coming to a point where people believe that “true community” can only be experienced within a group of  individuals who share very specific ideas. This is false.

As the Conversations Pastor at Centerpoint, I get asked from time-to-time if the church will ever offer any interest-based groups. We’ve been asked to start a motorcycle group and a young couples group. We’ve even been asked to provide a group for 40-year-old moms who have kids who just left for college. That’s very specific! Whenever I receive these requests, I reply with the same answer:

“You just need to get in a group.”

I say this because I believe with all of my heart that, despite our backgrounds and lifestyles and baggage, we have more in common with each other than we think we do! We were all created by the same loving God! We’re all human! While our life experiences and personalities may be different, the way we hope and the way we desire and the way we handle frustration – all that stuff is the same!

You just need to get in a group.

There are two lies that we believe that keep us from engaging with folks who are outside of our “niche”:

1.) No one outside of my “niche” will truly understand my unique baggage.

False.

For starters, your baggage isn’t that unique. You may have a wild and crazy story, but you’re not the only person carrying around the weight of tragedies and bad decisions. I realize you might be a 35-year-old single mom trying to take care of your kids, but if you’d just take the time to listen to the story from the 57-year-old biker dude sitting across from you, I guarantee you’ll be blessed in ways you never imagined. Trust me. I’ve seen it happen.

2.) I’ve made bad decisions and learned from them. I want to take what I’ve learned and use it to the glory of God, but I can only do that if I’m in a community of people who struggle with the same problems I did.

False.

Your story isn’t as simple as , “I’m a divorced guy.” Your story isn’t as simple as, “I had an abortion.” It’s not as simple as, “I committed fraud at my job.” Don’t oversimplify your story. Don’t clip your wings.

Your story is complex! Your life experience is full of ebbs and flows that we’re all familiar with! It’s not so important WHAT you did as WHY you did it! WHY did you get divorced? WHY did you have an abortion? WHY did you commit fraud? It’s the WHYs that will resonate with people! It’s the WHYs that will teach people! It’s the WHYs that will bless people! Never forget that!

—-

We currently have four strong and diverse small groups at Centerpoint. My group is an excellent cross-section of the diversity seen in all the groups: we’ve got a single mom, a retired couple, an engaged couple in their early 20s, a newlywed couple in their late 20s, a divorced guy, and a 50-year-old woman whose story is the stuff of legendary country ballads. Those are just the “regulars”. Every week these people share their hearts and their fears, and every week I am blessed by their love and understanding and support of each other. I would never have put this group together on paper, but somehow this group “found itself”. And it’s awesome.

Many churches offer small groups based on niches and special interests, and these groups are healthy and vibrant and are places where God is moving. Who knows? Maybe, as we assess the needs of our church, Centerpoint will offer these types of groups in the future, as well. But no matter what our church’s small group set up may be, I never want to be afraid to tell a person to “just get in a group.”

Wes Molebash is the Conversations Pastor at Centerpoint Church in Chillicothe, OH. When he’s not working on ministry stuff, he’s making funny faces at his wife or drawing cartoons. You can read his weekly comic strip at www.insertimg.com.

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