This week, Michelle Kirtley is sharing about the life group that she, her husband Aaron and their four children have been attending. I’ve enjoyed watching this life group from a distance as I have observed their interaction in a variety of settings.
Scripture often uses the image of family to describe the community of believers. Paul tells us that in Christ we have been adopted as sons, as co-heirs (Eph 1:5, Rom 8). The author of Hebrews tells us: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). But experiencing this depth of community can be challenging in our busy culture in the midst of a large church.
When my husband and I began attending the Bible Church with our four children a little over a year ago, we knew we wanted to connect deeply with other believers, so we looked on the church website and joined a Life Group not far from our house. At the very first visit, I was struck by the missional commitment of the group. Almost everyone, unprompted, asked for prayer for people in their lives who did not yet know Jesus. Within a month, we had listened to members share intensely personal struggles, and we had seen the group stop and immediately surround the person with prayer. This life group has been one of the richest blessings of our time at the Bible Church and has helped us transition from feeling like strangers to feeling at home in a remarkably short span of time.
In the last couple of months, because our group had grown so large (20 people, not counting our kids!), with much prayer and discussion, we decided to spin off a new “life group plant.” As co-leaders of this new group, Aaron and I have reflected on why our original group was able to create such a strong sense of community, we have identified several ingredients of the “special sauce” that made our original group such a blessing.
- First, our group was blessed with intergenerational diversity. Our youngest adult member was 22, our oldest over 70. With folks in different seasons in life, we were able to care for one another well because we have different types of needs and different margins. Our retirees and younger members could help babysit kids because their own nests were either empty or not yet filled. Mid-life families like ours could offer marriage perspective and career advice and encouragement for younger graduate students and newly married couples. This demographic diversity also allowed us to share key life moments together. Our group walked with two couples through their engagements. We threw wedding showers and went to weddings together as a community.
- Second, we regularly incorporated social time into our meetings. Every couple of months we had “life group dinner” in place of our regular meetings. Kids eagerly participated as well, so that our whole family became known by and felt like an integral part of the group.
- Third, group members modeled intentionally pursuing and developing relationships with others in the group outside of our regularly scheduled meeting. I was invited to coffee shortly after we started going to the group, which not only made me feel welcome, but also accelerated the process of getting to know and feeling known by the group. We’ve watched movies and attended talks together. We’ve had breakfasts and dinners and walks and birthday parties. Core members of the group had walked through challenging circumstances together, long before our family arrived. And group members occasionally dropped by our house on a whim just to check in, play with our kids, or get advice.
- Fourth, we were blessed with ethnic diversity and the willingness of minority members to share vulnerable stories of their own experiences. We were able to “weep with those who weep.”
- Finally, we supported and encouraged one another through everyday and more intense challenges, both through prayer and practical help, such as moving, meals, or babysitting. This level of involvement in one another’s lives was only possible because of the trust and vulnerability of those who shared their very personal and painful trials and who were willing to ask for help. Members showed that they were truly praying for one another throughout the week and would often check-in midweek via text or email to see how a particular circumstance was progressing.
Of course, such a lovely picture of God’s family was not meant solely for the encouragement of believers. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” One of the primary reasons for planting a new group was a desire to make room to invite others, particularly non-believers, into the beautiful community God has built among us. In our new group, we are hoping to intentionally and regularly pray for those God has put in our lives, and we are incorporating regular social time (movie nights, dinners, game nights, outings, etc) into our rhythms of doing life together so that we can invite non-Christian friends into our community.
I am thankful for the ways our original group modeled how the Gospel creates unity across generations, backgrounds, and ethnicities–work that began years before we joined the group–and we look forward to spreading this love and grace even more widely in the broader Chapel Hill community as we launch our new group.