A Church in a Church in a Church

Over the past few months I’ve written a couple of blogs about my confusion over how to “do” church—one in April and one in May. I explained that at our current mega-church, I felt more like a member of an audience than a member of a family, and that I was exploring other options. At the same time, my husband emphatically wanted to stay right where we are, and I wasn’t going to make any changes without him.

It seemed like a stalemate. Happily, God is pretty amazing. In His wisdom, He had the situation under control and a solution was waiting for just this moment.

Being so big, our church recognizes a need for smaller groups to meet on a regular basis. The “groups” ministry is organized on a tri-mester basis. Those wanting to lead groups must take a training class. They then advertise their concept (perhaps a study of Mark, or a support group for single moms, or a family camping group) on the church website and people vote by signing up—or not. It’s basically a free market strategy. Some groups last only one tri-mester, while others continue for years. Over the past ten years, Pete and I have joined or led at least six of these, but we’ve made only a couple of long-term friendships. Most of the time, the group ended and everyone dispersed, becoming lost in the crowd.

What I really thought I wanted at this point was to leave our current church and join a house fellowship. I didn’t think we had time for Sunday mornings and a mid-week evening. (Pete frequently doesn’t get home from work until well after 7 pm.) Still, I was willing to try the small group idea again. Perhaps Pete and I could compromise—he’d get his ginormous worship experience and I’d have more intimate contact with fellow believers.

I contacted several on-going groups to find out if they had space for new members, but not one replied to my emails. (Pete explained that email isn’t a good way to reach people, but it was the only contact information I had.) This wasn’t exactly encouraging. I kept praying, mostly asking God to change Pete’s mind about leaving. Perhaps that wasn’t the best way to pray, but it was honest.

I was out of town one weekend when Pete went to our Sunday School class on his own. We’ve been attending this class since November, and we’ve met a number of people on a very casual basis. No one knew that I was struggling with staying at the church, or that we were looking for a small group to join. However… Pete struck up a conversation, one thing led to another, and we were invited to join a group of friends who have been meeting every Friday evening for thirteen years!

(Interestingly, this group was not listed in the church’s database. I guess they don’t feel a need to advertise at this point.)

The original premise for the group was to discuss Sunday’s sermon, but that’s just one small part. The evening starts at six with a pot luck dinner for those who can make it. We’ve been coming to that, and it’s a great way to meet a few people at a time. Then, at seven, everyone else starts filtering in.

Our host’s home has a large basement room filled with folding chairs. If everyone came, there’d be over forty people crammed in, but an average week’s attendance is closer to fifteen or twenty. There’s a time of singing worship songs (without amplifiers and ear plugs!) followed by a sermon discussion led by a facilitator. The evening closes with some sharing and prayer for one another. In short—it’s church!

Actually, forty or more is rather large for a house church, so once a month the small group breaks into even smaller groups of perhaps eight people who plan their own get-together. These smaller groups are re-shuffled every so often, allowing everyone to eventually get to know one another on a more personal level.

At this point we’ve only been a few times, and we’re still working hard just to learn names, but already we feel welcomed and valued. In fact, the Sunday after our first meeting, when we took our usual seats in our huge worship center, I was quite surprised to discover that we’ve been sitting among this group all along. It was just confirmation that God had been planning and plotting for months, preparing a place for us where we could belong.

Of course, it isn’t perfect. Nothing this side of heaven ever will be. But it’s a workable solution to an issue I’ve been praying about for years. God is good!

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