“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Small Groups Matter

September is sign up time for Small Groups at First Universalist. As some of you know, I am a huge believer in the power of Small Groups. In fact, I believe that they are one of the most important things we do at First Universalist. 

Certainly, Sunday worship is important, but Small Groups are about moving from "rows to circles*" (from sitting in the pews on Sunday morning to moving to a “face to face,” environment,  where we listen to and get to know one another, and share the growing edges of our lives and our faith.) 

While part of the purpose of a Small Group is to connect with other members of the church, a larger purpose is to create an environment where we can engage in the spiritual practice of deep listening.
Rachel Naomi Remen (learn more here.)
As author Rachel Naomi Remen says,  
“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” 

As one small group participant said:
“I decided to sign up for a small group just a few weeks after starting to worship at First Universalist. I’ve had the good fortune to do a fair bit of listening training, but to be honest, as a man, as a father, as "the boss" at work,and quite frankly as a raging extrovert, I really don’t get nearly enough being listened to. And, to be honest, I know I don’t listen enough either. So I signed up and showed up, and what I found was that no one is listened to enough, and in equal measure none of us have enough space in our lives to open up, go deep, and share from the hardened tender edges of our souls. What I learned is that deep listening is another word for seeing - and that in our small groups, we show up, week after week to say to each other: 'I. See. You.'  
What we practice in Small Groups sticks with us in the larger group too. As we grow our capacity for deep listening, we also get more adept at sharing that capacity with the wider community.”
He’s right. And that's why Small Groups are so important; they are changing the fabric of our faith community. Small Groups are a practice that is helping us create new patterns, new ways of being together, new ways of living our faith, as we "give, receive, and grow" together (that's part of our Mission Statement.) The more we practice deep listening in Small Groups, the better we get at it. It changes the DNA of our faith community and how we are with one another, and the wider community.
Another Small Group participant said,
I think one of the most meaningful experiences for me about small groups is that they have allowed me to connect with other church members on more than just a surface level. We share stories we would not share in other settings. We see ourselves in  others, and others see themselves in us.” 
Small Groups matter.
They are a spiritual practice that can open our hearts and help us move toward wholeness
As I told the congregation on Sunday, "The early Universalist believed that God loved everyone and that everyone was saved. Today, we might say that the 'Spirit of Life' is in everyone, and that "salvation" comes from authentic relationships - with ourselves, others, and that which is larger than us…salvation, in part, comes from the kind of deep relationships we form in Small Groups, as we give, receive, and grow into love’s people." 

How is your church using Small Groups? How has the life of your faith community changed because of Small Groups? What has your experience been in Small Groups? How does a practice of "deep listening" inform and shape your life? I'd love to hear from you!

*The "rows to circles" concept is one that I've heard from Andy Stanley, Senior Minister from North Point Community Church, in Georgia.


Michael said...

This past winter and summer I participated in First Universalists' small groups. As someone that was new to the church I found the small groups to be a great way to meet, connect, and share with other church goers on a much deeper level.

There have been many moments outside of these groups where I've encountered people that just need someone to listen. Before attending the small groups at First Universalist the "old me" would have offered unwarranted advice instead of doing something a bit more simple: listening with an open heart. Furthermore, getting into the habit of "deep listening" isn't only applicable to the voices of others; I now find myself more "in tune" with me!

I look forward to participating in the small groups at First Universalist again later this winter.

Justin Schroeder said...

@Michael, so glad you enjoyed your experience in the small groups. I particularly resonate with what you said about being more in tune with your self. This has been my experience as well...slowing down to truly connect to my own inner life. Thanks for commenting.