By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director
This is the second in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for Community Groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.
In 2002, our son had already graduated from high school, and our daughter was drawing near to her graduation date. Both had been quite involved in Elim’s youth ministry, but as they graduated they drifted away from Elim. We realized that there really wasn’t anything designed to keep them, and other young adults like them, engaged in the life and ministry of this church.
One day Darlene said to me, “I think God wants us to do something about this.” But I really couldn’t imagine how we could help. We didn’t have any training in college-/career-aged ministry, and college/career groups in local churches were notoriously difficult to sustain.
“What could we possibly do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded, “but we should pray.”
I was skeptical . . . but, pray we did. And, as we prayed, we began to get a sense that God was indeed calling us to step out and take a risk and try to start something that could create community for this very important life/stage group in our church. I’m thankful that the staff at Elim supported us as we sought to respond to God’s leading.
We called that first effort “YAM,” which was a truly terrible acronym for “Young Adults Ministry.” A number of years later, as the group began to grow and flourish, its members took matters into their own hands and renamed their group “Pulse.” (Which I think was a definite improvement!)
Those first five years of ministry, there were many times we asked: “Is God really in this? If so, why is this so hard? Why aren’t we seeing more young adults join this group?” We often had just a small handful of faithful young adults at our gatherings. Darlene and I remember a Bible study where just one young man, Kennith, showed up, despite being exhausted after work. We decided to press ahead with just the three of us. Then, during the Bible study, Kennith fell asleep! After that meeting, we once again looked at one another and asked ourselves, “Is God really in this?”
And we continued to pray. Despite the seeming lack of success, we still had a conviction that God wanted us to continue. So, after about five years of this, and after a lot of experimentation, the group began to take off and soon hit some sort of “critical mass.” Young people brought their friends, and close bonds were formed. Many of them got married (we’ve counted about 18 Pulse weddings thus far!) and began serving in ministry at Elim.
Over the years the group has waxed and waned, and changed a lot in many ways; but we are grateful to discover this one very important principle, which we believe directly relates to all sorts of community groups at Elim:
God is the One who raises up groups, and He does so by speaking into the lives of leaders and laying a vision on their heart for the group. Every group is different, and the group leader(s) are responsible to manage the group in accordance with God’s leading. Hence, it is unlikely any two groups will be the same, and our goal (as leaders at Elim) should be to encourage, exhort, and grant a great deal of freedom to group leaders to lead in a manner in which they feel called. We will therefore resist any cookie-cutter approach to creating groups at Elim.
In my last post (part one of seven), we discussed how vitally important groups are to the life of the church, because small groups are one of the most effective places people can grow in their relationship with Christ and one another. But the truth is, we are all different, and this doesn’t happen the same way for every person.
Some of us find it easier to grow when we meet with people who are a lot like us, in terms of life stage or circumstance. Others like to hear from a wide variety of people at different places in life. Some of us do well in larger groups, and some of us get our batteries recharged when we are talking life with just a few close friends. Some of us have better emotional energy and more time in the evenings or weekends, and some of us prefer meeting together first thing in the morning, when we are fresh. Some of us really want to dig into verse-by-verse Bible study, and others need fellowship and just sharing life together. Some of us love dark chocolate, and others prefer vanilla. We are all different!
The truth is, God knows us and what we need. After all, He created us! He cares more about us than anyone else ever could. Thus we need to trust Him as we seek to find a group of people to walk in community with.
As staff and elders at Elim, our goal is to encourage and give freedom so that God can work in our midst and raise up the kinds of groups we may not yet know we need in order to meet the needs of the people He wants to bring us. If you are aching for community, let’s talk! If there’s a special kind of group you wish existed, let us know, and we will pray with you and ask God to raise up a group that would fit the vision He is giving you.
We all need community in order to grow in Christ. So let’s throw off every encumbrance and go for it!