Family Sized Community

I wonder how many people were in your family gathering for Thanksgiving this year? Ours had 18 – which is on the small side for my family growing up! My definition of a ‘family sized community’ can stretch all the way up to 30 people and I’m still feeling very much at home, known and loved. Others in my current family grew up with much smaller family gatherings – closer to 5 or 6. A group of more than 8 or so doesn’t feel so much like family as a crowd! Everyone needs a place where they feel known and loved as family.

This coming year – in 2020 – we will focus on being known in family sized community gatherings. Remember that Jesus was followed by crowds wherever he went, and much of his teaching in the gospels was heard by these crowds. But his disciples were a group of 12 – and an inner circle of 3. Discipleship – learning to walk as Jesus walked, think the way Jesus taught, and love as Jesus loved –requires the intimacy of these smaller family sized communities.
Now, gathering in small groups is part of the DNA of West Side. Over this past year, when I’ve asked people how they came to be involved in our church and what makes this family, almost every story has referred to a small group of people who shared life, faith and prayer. There are two elements that we’d like to try in January small groups that may be newer to some small group gatherings.

The first is a focus on accountability and fellowship in family sized community. In the late 18th and early 20th century Methodism grew rapidly, both in England and the States. An essential reason for this was the spiritual practice of ‘Christian conferencing’ – small groups that centered on the question “How is it with your soul?” John Wesley noticed that he could preach the exact same sermons in two different districts in England. In one area, there was little to no change. In another, revival took hold and lives were transformed by the gospel of Jesus. The difference? Smaller groups of believers dedicated to mutual love and accountability. This is what I mean by ‘family sized community’. Many of us are involved in excellent Bible studies and gatherings. I wonder how many of us meet on a regular basis with a group of fellow believers mutually dedicated to heart and life transformation into the character of Jesus?

The second element in the January small groups will be a common curriculum. To help create space and time for fellowship and accountability, the materials for these small groups in January will follow the sermon series. They will include reflections for individual, daily devotionals as well as discussion as a group. Josh Kutz and others on the Christian Education team are partnering with me to develop a small group and personal devotional guide to go deeper into the Epiphany sermon series (more on that in the January newsletter).

We need your help before Christmas, though, to identify existing groups that have space for a few new members – and organize new groups of people willing to participate and serve. More importantly, will you please consider your schedule in January and February. Where can you set aside a morning, afternoon or evening on a weekly basis to meet with others in your West Side family to encourage and exhort one another in love as we follow Jesus together? Our hope is described best by Wesley’s observations of what happened in these small bands of believers: Many now happily experienced that Christian fellowship of which they had not so much as an idea before. They began to “bear one another’s burdens,” and “naturally” to “care for each other.” As they had daily a more intimate acquaintance with, so they had a more endeared affection for each other. And “speaking the truth in love, they grew up into him in all things which is the head, even Christ.”
- Pastor Laurie
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