Like a lot of you, I have been thinking constantly about Covid-19 and how it is affecting our world—especially church world.
It is increasingly clear to me that regardless of the legality of meeting, there are a whole lot of people who are really nervous about meeting. Restaurants were open in our state for a time but are now closed again. Even when they were open, they were nearly empty. People are nervous.
Yet, we long for community. We need community. The research is in on community. Lack of community may kill as many people as Covid-19. Really.
Being in meaningful relationships is life-giving in the most literal sense.
One of the most thorough research projects on relationships is called the Alameda County Study. Headed by a Harvard social scientist, it tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections.
People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes that if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”
For another study, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 276 volunteers were infected with a virus that produces the common cold. The study found that people with strong emotional connections did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. These people were less susceptible to colds, had less virus, and produced significantly less mucous than relationally isolated subjects. (I’m not making this up. They produced less mucous. This means it is literally true: Unfriendly people are snottier than friendly people.) — John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal till You Get to Know Them (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
We need community, but we are afraid. What to do?
Super Small Groups
After thinking about this almost constantly over the last couple of months, I think the solution is super small groups — groups of 5 or 6 or so.
Check my math on this. The way I calculate it, you are 100 times more likely to be infected by a deadly disease in a group of 500 compared to a group of 5. Super small groups are super safe groups.
Super small groups are not only safe, they are better. There is an inverse relationship between the size of a group and the amount of life change. In a larger group, sharing feels like giving a speech. In a super small group, it feels like talking to some friends. In a super small group, the worship can be targeted toward what is helpful to the people who are there. (Have you noticed the people have differing opinions on music style used in worship? Problem solved.) The teaching can also be targeted to the needs of the group.
The Who of Super Small Groups
The who of super small groups is important. It is the people you don’t mind hugging. It is the people you (literally) take your mask off with. It is your best friends. It might be your family.
By starting with these people, there is almost no risk of infection. These are the people you see anyway. Why not do church with these people? How does that work? Keep reading.
The What of Super Small Groups
Super small groups would do well to consider doing six things and have one person in charge of each these things. I will list them in the order they would naturally occur in a small group. Imagine your five best friends (or family) meet you for a small group. What do you do first?
- Fellowship. You start with fellowship. You talk about the weather, work, kids, grand kids, the news and so forth. The Fellowship Champion starts there and leads the group into one or two well-thought-out questions to lead the group to a little deeper level of fellowship. Notice I said a little deeper We don’t want to freak anybody out. We also don’t want the group to stay on the surface forever.
- Worship. If you have a musician in the room, they would be the natural fit for this job. If not, ask someone to pick out a couple of good worship songs on YouTube. Or, pick out a good Psalm. (Psalm 90 – 106 are some of my favorites.) Another idea is to lead in a worship-only prayer time. No asking for stuff allowed during this prayer.
- Teaching. If you have a teacher in the group, let them teach. If not, ask someone to find a good teaching series on YouTube or elsewhere. Check out Good Questions Have Groups Talking. (Google it.) If you can read 20 questions, you can lead a Small Group Bible Study.
- Prayer. I suggest you do this toward the end of your time. If you do prayer requests first, there is a tendency for this time to crowd out other priorities. People are a little more succinct when the hour is late. Again, we need a Champion. In addition to leading the prayer request and prayer time, the Prayer Champion might email anyone who is not there and manage any group text or similar connections during the week.
- The last two activities are service and evangelism. You won’t actually do these in class, but I recommend you talk about the in class. Have a Champion for each who leads the group in a 5-minute conversation on each topic. Just talking about them each week will be a healthy reminder that we need to let our light shine before men that they would see our good work and glorify our God in heaven. Service is the ultimate apologetic of the church.
Super small groups. Super simple. Super effective. Super fun.
What questions do you have? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org