Our focus on healthy church and the three avenues of Hope, Faith and Love are applicable to any size group or congregation.
“We only have eight people in our group; how are we expected to have a champion or coordinator for the Hope, Faith and Love avenues?” The simple answer is you aren’t. While we encourage larger congregations to have Hope, Faith and Love avenue teams, which work with the pastor in a team-based, pastor-led model, your small group is the team. We do not have a “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping you be the healthiest expression of church/group you can be. With that said, we do believe every small group can and should keep the principles of our Hope, Faith and Love avenues in mind in everything they do. Allow me to explain by going through one avenue at a time and sharing how it might work in a Fellowship Group or Connect Group.
The Hope Avenue — Worship
Worship is our response inside of Christ’s perfect response. It is joining Jesus in worship of the Father. Worship can be done individually and with a group. When we gather to worship, we are sharing the hope we have in Christ—his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return. When we worship in participation with Jesus, we are communing with him and sharing in the communion he shares with our Father and the Holy Spirit. We have three areas we focus on in the Hope Avenue:
• Intentional Preparation: Are we using the revised common lectionary (RCL) resources in Equipper? We provide a weekly theme, the RCL scripture passages, a sermon and discussion questions. We also provide a Speaking of Life video that can be used with or in place of a sermon; again, with discussion questions. A good practice for a Fellowship group is for all to read the sermon ahead of time and come prepared to discuss it. Read the other RCL passages as well, which can lead to further discussion.
• Inclusive Gathering: Fellowship groups provide a wonderful opportunity for all to participate. It would be good for the facilitator to include any children in the discussion, and even prepare some questions for the children. Perhaps prepare some handouts. Check out this site for ideas: www.sermons4kids.com
• Inspirational Sunday Services: It’s often easier for a Fellowship or Connect Group to make the message applicable as group members share with each other. An inspirational service might include group prayer, responsive reading, scripture reading, praise and prayer requests. A home environment also makes people feel more welcome and included than a larger gathering.
The Faith Avenue — Discipleship
All of us are called to be disciples, which is the disciplined habit of thinking and acting in Christ. It is growing in grace and knowledge, growing closer to Jesus and to each other. This is one of the natural strengths of a Fellowship or Connect Group. This avenue includes the following three focus areas:
• Intentional Discipleship: Because of the size of the group, you are more likely to know each other well. You may share more meals together and have more personal discussions than you might have in a larger church environment. If you have a cross-generational group, it’s easier to include people of all ages in the discussions and the fellowship. Further, you may find it easier to invite friends and family to join you in a smaller more intimate group.
• Small Groups: Not much to say here—you are a small group. However, members of the group may find opportunities to start other small groups in their neighborhood or work community.
• Missionary Activities: Size has nothing to do with opportunity to reach out to others. You can plan a picnic and invite family and friends. You can support a local mission. What talents does your group have that can serve a local mission? Can you sew, knit or crochet? There are needs in women’s shelters, for unwed mothers, for aging parents. Can you build, or provide teaching for those who want to build? Be creative and you might just be surprised how you can help others.
The Love Avenue — Witness
Paul talks about the love of Christ compelling us. It compels us to share his life and love with others. It compels us to no longer view others from a worldly point of view (see 2 Corinthians 5). It compels us to find ways to be a light and example to others—no matter the size of our group.
• Identify Target Community: One of our Fellowship groups provides diaper bags for unwed mothers. Another group knits hats for premature babies. Others provide meals for people in need. Others spend time in prayer for people in the community. Get to know a local authority or service provider and ask how you can help — even if it is simply to get names for you to pray for. Identify a group you can help. Don’t try to save the neighborhood or reach out in several ways—find one (or maybe two) target groups where you can serve.
• Ongoing Relationship Building: Try meeting at a coffee shop, or a fast-food place once a month. Get to know people who come in, interact with them, pray for them. Join a book club and pray for the members of the club. There are many ways to build relationships.
• Missional Activities and Events: If you are an older group, become the foster grandparents at a local school by showing up at the kids’ games. Again, be creative. You may be surprised at the doors God opens for you to share his love with others.
Our goal is not to wear you out, make you feel you aren’t doing enough, or coerce you into starting something you are not gifted to start. It is simply to help you realize there are opportunities should you choose to pursue them. It is to keep all of GCI focused on being the healthiest expression of church, fellowship group, or connect group we can be.
And let’s be honest with ourselves. Your greatest gift to the body of Christ may be spending time praying for others. If that’s your gift, do it with joy, and please include us in the Home Office. We covet your prayers, knowing we move forward in prayer. And please know we are always here to resource you in any way we can. Many of our Fellowship groups will close as members age, and travel becomes difficult. We are here to help you make those transitions as well, and to provide resources for you when that time comes.
May our great God continue to bless you as you share his love and life with others in the three healthy church avenues of Hope, Faith and Love.