By Holly Justice
Community groups, small groups, life groups, cell groups, gospel communities, no matter what you call it, if you have been to a church, you have likely been pitched the idea of getting involved in one. At Christ Community, we opted for Community Groups, and we couldn’t be more committed to the importance and influence these groups can make in the context of the body of Christ.
My family and I have been a part of Christ Community for 15 years, and over those years we have been in at least six different Community Groups. Our first group was 40 minutes from our home and most of the members had kids with braces, while we were fresh college graduates with our first shiny jobs and our very own health insurance. You might think that being part of a group that was not in our life stage, or even remotely close to our neighborhood, was pointless. I’ll admit, there were times we felt those feelings while on the literal roadtrip across the city to get to Community Group.
However, that first, perhaps slightly askew, group actually worked like rubber cement, sticking us to the church. The hosts were generous and curious about us, even if we didn’t have a ton in common. The group members had great perspective and wisdom around work, most being mid-career. They had walked through more pain and disappointment in their relationships and jobs than our 20-something optimistic selves had yet seen. They had stories. Stories of God’s long-term faithfulness, provision and goodness.
That group, those people, helped us begin to see how friendship and connectedness could look in the church—even when the individual members look really different from one another.
So many of us come to church as anonymous visitors—like my family did many years ago. In those early days, one of the hardest things about Sunday was walking among a sea of people laughing, talking, and hugging, and not knowing a soul. It is so tempting to hang on the outskirts and make a beeline for the door as soon as the last “amen” is said. Let’s face it, being unknown is uncomfortable and awkward. On the other hand, if you aren’t new, it can be challenging to know who is new in our growing campuses. In our uncertainty, we often take the less risky route and opt out of initiating conversation with anyone we don’t already know. Add that up and it can be so easy to attend a church for months, never being really engaged on a personal level.
It turns out that church—just like everything else in this world—has its broken components too. But each one of us can be a part of fixing that brokenness! Don’t wait around for community to come to you. Combat anonymity! Join a Community Group!
As soon as we joined our first group I had 12 faces who I recognized on Sunday. They knew ME, knew my story. If nothing else, that made Sunday a lot more fun. One couple would catch us and ask us about our workweek. Another woman introduced me to a fellow congregant who worked in the same area of graphic design as I did. Sometimes one of our members would notice when we’d been gone a few weeks, and would catch us to ask how we were doing when we returned. It wasn’t creepy. It was really nice, and the church began to feel more like home.
Before belonging to a group, I often talked about how “the church should do this” or “they really need to…”. My years as an Art Director trained me to look at almost anything and analyze how it could be done or said better, differently, or more impactfully. Assessing what I see and experience is just part of who I am, so that didn’t disappear. But then a shift happened. After belonging to a group, I began to find myself saying, “We could make this better by…” or “I want to find out how to help in…”. My Community Group helped me understand the heart of the church and our leadership. It gave me the context to start from a place of grace and not cast uninformed judgement. I moved into a perspective of membership, beyond just a simple consumer of the goods and services the church offered. I identified Christ Community as MY church.
When we move into a mindset that the church is ours, we experience what being an essential part of the body of Christ means in richer ways. You’ll be known, but in addition, the rest of the body will be blessed and influenced by what you have to share.
You are essential to your neighbor! When Jesus saves people, He saves them into the family of God, and that family needs connection to you and your unique contribution as much as you need theirs.
For those reasons, becoming a member of a group is worth the effort, even if the group has flaws. (And I’ll let you in on a secret—they all have flaws!) If you’ve never been in a group, try it out! If you’ve been ‘on break’ for a season, consider diving back in. Whether you are brand new or have been here from the beginning, being a member of a group fosters the fertile soil in which connection can grow and bear fruit.
There have been moments of connection in a community group that I will never forget. Several years ago I lost my job and my community group spoke truth to me about my gifts and worth when I just couldn’t see myself clearly. We developed such closeness within a particular group during a time that one couple had to live in a painfully long, quiet period of unanswered prayer, working out how to keep walking forward together in faith. What I remember about that group and those memories far outweighs any bumps, awkward moments, or long silences during the discussion time. These memories solidify for me why Jesus wanted us to do life together and not in isolation.
After all these years of participating in community groups, I now have the opportunity to see groups from the other side, as a church staff member. I currently support Community Groups at our Brookside Campus, and there is nothing better than meeting someone who takes that first brave step to ask to get involved with a group. I want to do a celebratory touchdown dance because I know that what lies ahead is the potential for greater connection, empathy for the church, identity and ownership as a member of our body, and the invaluable opportunity for their new group to be influenced and changed by all the amazing things they bring to the table. That’s why after all these years I keep coming back to Community Group. Why not join me?
Holly Justice has been deeply embedded at Christ Community since 2004, wearing many hats over those years. She now serves as an Associate Pastor at Brookside Campus, leading adult ministries.