A campus leader of our SpiritGroup small group ministry program recently shared a question with me that she uses to inspire her team to step out in service:
If the church vanished tomorrow, who would miss us?
Aside from your membership, who would notice if you shut your doors? Whose lives would be diminished if your light were not shining for them?
An essential element of the SpiritGroups small group ministry program is service. Sometimes, service happens at the church. More often, however, groups are encouraged to step out beyond the walls of the church and serve the greater community as a way of practicing the spiritual tools that are being discussed both on Sunday mornings and through their small group dialogues.
In our small group curriculum series, Thy Will Be Done, we introduce group members to five spiritual disciplines that are essential to their own personal growth, as well as the growth of their group and their spiritual community: Communion, Connection, Compassion, Community and Challenge. (The 5 Cs)
Community service, as a spiritual practice, is a deep, meaningful experience. It is an opportunity to demonstrate principles that are discussed philosophically, and for many, it is a spiritual challenge requiring them to venture into unfamiliar territory, reaching out to people unknown, seeing distressing circumstances that they might prefer to ignore, or step into a role that is unfamiliar and perhaps a bit scary.
Without service, spiritual growth stagnates. Congregants may nod their heads when you speak of love and kindness and compassion. Through service, these ideas come to life. We move through fear. We move through isolation. We get out of our heads and we move into our hearts. We make a difference for people beyond the walls of the church.
If your spiritual community disappeared tomorrow, who in your community would miss you? What would be different for them?
Michelle Young, a SpiritGroup program director at Unity on Greenville in Dallas, Texas, says her involvement with small groups has empowered her to act in ways that feel like “a leap of faith.”
“The more leaps of faith I take and the bigger those leaps are, the more I have been rewarded. My rewards have been many, but the one I feel the most blessed for is my ever-growing faith. As my faith grows, I am willing to risk more. The more I express gratitude and ‘pay it forward,’ the more I continue to be blessed!”
In a small group setting, participants are challenged to decide on a project that will allow them to express the intellectual insights they gather from their group discussions. Regardless of the size or scope of the project, the impact of participating is spiritual growth for those who serve—as well as waves of love and kindness generated in the community!
Glenda Thompson, SpiritGroup Program leader at Unity of Arlington, Texas, shares, “I think the most important aspect of service is going beyond the walls of our church. In the beginning, I became aware that all of our service projects were feeding the needs of the church. We had become a congregation of consumers. Sure we collected items to donate, but the word service implies physical action. It requires us to actually be there face-to-face, connecting with people outside our comfort zone. Reaching that place is what a church is about: providing the forum for communion, connection, compassion, community and challenge.”
Through the SpiritGroups program at her church, leaders have served the community by creating and distributing blessing bags for the homeless, collecting supplies for the local animal shelter, volunteering in community-wide charity runs for people suffering from disease, in addition to organizing clean-up projects in and around the church.
Group leader Steve Morris has led a group for the past 18 months. The ongoing nature of the group fosters connection, trust and accountability. He states, “Overall, we have experienced wonderful connection to each other. This has occurred as a result of sharing ideas and discussing the books and materials in our small group. Through our studies we have a deeper understanding that we are the hands and feet of God. We are God expressing. It is not enough to know the principles. We must live them. So that’s what we do.”
Steve’s group now leads an ongoing service project cooking and serving dinner to approximately 40 residents of Samaritan House, a shelter for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. The project has been ongoing for the past six months. He says, “This project has been a huge blessing for those of us involved. After we serve dinner, we sit at the tables and share a meal and conversations with the residents. This has been a great illustration of the connection, community and challenge aspects of the 5 Cs for us. After we clean everything up, we circle up and pray to say thank you for the opportunity to serve. Each time we do, residents that see us come over and join our circle and share in that blessing. It is moving, rewarding, humbling and joyous.”
Empowering New Leaders & Building Strong Relationships
If you seek greater connection in your ministry, challenging your small groups to serve is a wonderful way to empower new leaders and build stronger relationships within your church.
Salli Sledge is a new SpiritGroup leader who recently participated in a pilot launch of the program in her church at Unity Spiritual Center in Spokane, Wash. For their service project, the group decided to cook lunch for the congregation before their annual meeting. According to Salli, “The food was delicious, we swapped recipes for some of the dishes, and we had a great turn-out for the meeting! We felt very useful and I look forward to more service projects from our new SpiritGroups in Spokane.”
When asked how she personally grew through her experience, Salli replied, “As a group, we definitely felt connected to each other even more through our choice of project. We pulled together as a team and served the Unity community that day. Personally, it was nice to provide my favorite healthy West African peanut soup. People were excited about it and wanted to add it to their own home menus.”
Whether the project is large or small, you can create an ongoing culture of service by supporting your congregation to take leaps of faith as a part of a fun-filled, loving small group. Not only will you grow your membership from the inside out, you’ll enrich your community and bless people’s lives in a way that matters deeply beyond the walls of your church.