One of the objections people have against small groups is that we don’t get to pick the people. Small group seemed like an artificially assembled group of people that don’t naturally get along or necessarily click with each other. Some groups are together for months and still don’t feel like they’re all that much closer. Some people openly long to not have to be part of a small group so that they can be more focused on spending time with people they know they can have meaningful friendships with. And many pastors realize that fighting this is a losing battle.
I am not one of those pastors.
Why, you ask? There are two reasons.
1. Sorting based on preference doesn’t make you better at loving.
GK Chesterton once said that Jesus told us to “love your neighbor”, because loving the person in proximity to you was the best way to make sure you didn’t already like that person. Loving based on proximity is the most arbitrary way to sort who it is you are supposed to love. Think of the people that live within five houses of you – would you pick these people to be your close friends? Most people would say no. Choosing to love people like you is easier. In some ways it’s more fun. But in very few ways is it truly spiritually enriching. Loving those who make it through your sorting process not only ignores God’s commandments about love, but it also is about the worst thing for you. Remember Jesus said something like
“If you love those who love you, what reward are you expecting? Even the tax collectors and sinners do that.” Matthew 5:44.
That’s why Jesus said to love your enemy and your neighbor.
2. Nobody likes the people you don’t like.
People have this strange idea that if we all sort on the basis of our preferences everybody will have plenty of friends and their social group. Well, people sort all they want in high schools, and there is still the cool crowd and the outcasts and we soar on the basis of who we are like. The same thing happens in church. The dirty little secret is that the church has cool kids. That is, not the kids that dress a little better, or are the captain of the football team – but just people who are really fun to be around, are emotionally healthy, and are relatively deep spiritually. There are some people that are just great people. We all want to be around them, and they want to be around each other. The dirty little secret is that there are other people who are simply left out in the cold. The high-capacity people circled their little suburban wagons with their intact families and emotionally healthy marriages and have wonderful, low maintenance fellowship. Everyone laughs, everyone grows, and everyone has a great time.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. What do you have that you didn’t receive? And if you received, what do you really think was God’s purpose and giving it to you? If our small groups are made up of people who would not normally choose to naturally hang out, then we are no different than the “tax collectors and sinners”, and we will cut off the people who can give help from the people who need help.
Especially if you are in small group leadership, consider not sorting who is in your group. Make sure at least one third of your group would not normally make it into whatever click you would naturally be a part of. We will talk in another post about what to do to help people bond so that the natural differences in your group can be overcome.
Remember, when Jesus is really the focus, he really is enough of a common bond to create one family. If he’s not making enough of a difference, he may not be enough of a focus.