Great Ideas to Create a Caring Group
By Thom Corrigan
Growing up in a family of eight in many ways was a precursor for small group life. Many of the dynamics I now practice in small groups I saw in my family-at dinner, in crisis, and at special times. We practiced some traditions passed on to us by grandparents who had brought them from other countries. Other traditions were started without a plan-by simply repeating something that we enjoyed or that went well.
I led a group and hosted it with my wife, living in a huge old home that had been divided into two spacious apartments. Our living room alone was almost five hundred square feet. As we approached the holidays and were looking for ways to reach out to others, someone suggested a feast. So we made plans to invite people in the church and those outside the church who we knew did not have family in the area. We borrowed folding banquet tables and set them end to end in our living room. We packed the room with friends, both old and new. A tradition had begun -by the end of the feast, we were sharing our thanks for God’s bounty and making plans for the next “outreach feast” together.
Step out of the ordinary, out of the normal, and allow yourself and those in your group to answer the question, “What if …?” or “How could we …?” Simple activities can become meaningful traditions as well, if you choose to repeat them in some fashion and then take the time to recount the blessings of previous celebrations!
Welcome People Back
If someone is gone for a few weeks due to a trip or illness, make a big deal over their return. An extra hug with a hearty “Welcome back, we missed you!” goes a long way. A simple hand-drawn or computer-generated “Welcome Back” sign on the wall at the group meeting can really emphasize the individual’s importance to the group.
Another way to welcome people is to call their answering machine or voice-mail, and as an individual or group sing a silly song or give a big group shout of welcome. A crazy message can be a nice surprise for a road-weary traveler or a boost for someone who has been ill.
In groups I lead, I look for any reason to throw a simple party. The return of a friend is as good as any. The party does not have to become the central focus of the group meeting; it can be a simple yet significant part that leads to caring, encouragement, and fun.
Help Them Find a Job
One of the greatest sources of stress is facing a job change. This event can be even more stressful when we find ourselves with an unplanned job change, either because of downsizing, outsourcing, firing, or refusing to transfer. Both group leaders and members can be substantial resources to someone in this season of life by offering to forward his resume to interested parties. Other ways to assist include posting resumes in an appropriate place within your business or network, and pointing a person toward employers in his field who might be interviewing for positions.
Another simple yet powerful way to help someone find a job is simply to pray with him on an ongoing basis, asking God to provide and direct. Consistent prayer can be a huge avenue into someone’s life who has not had to trust God in a large area and may be surprised to see God’s provision in this way.
You may want to offer an increase in accountability in your relationship with an unemployed person. It is easy to slip into a rut of depression or become lackadaisical during a prolonged period of unemployment. By agreeing in advance, you can call the person occasionally to see how his employment search is going, or make yourself available for prayer or an encouraging word.
Help Them Move
Moving to a new home is a regular part of community life. The average family today moves every three to five years. Moving is often stressful and can consume large amounts of time, energy, and money. If you are willing to help someone move, and to organize the group to help a person or family move, it is a practical way to show care and support.
Organizing a group to help a member move can be a wonderful way to allow people to exercise areas of giftedness and leadership that you might not see in your weekly meetings. People who are task-oriented can rise to the situation and provide great leadership as well as managerial or organizational skills that will really enhance the move. People who are quiet but strong shine when furniture and boxes are the agenda of the day.
At the end of the move, you can celebrate someone’s new home by praying for God’s blessing upon the place and its inhabitants. You can even end the event by providing their first meal in the new home at the end of the day.
Meet a Financial Need
This one takes sensitivity and thought. When you know that someone is in need, to respond to her by helping to meet the need is a way to express love and care. This should be done through prayer and consideration, as we do not want to feed people’s lack of stewardship over what they have. It is our responsibility to help carry one another’s burdens, and one way we can do this is to come alongside them financially.
Sometimes we can engage the group in this process. A number of years ago, a group member was out of a job and was facing being kicked out of his apartment. We put the word around quietly to the group and were able to raise enough money to pay his rent for two months. This took a huge financial burden off the person and reminded him that, as part of our community, his need was also our need.
Bring Meals When Someone Is Sick
Bringing in a meal when someone is sick in bed or one member of a couple is laid up in the hospital is a simple way we can show support and shoulder some of the burden. You can do this by yourself, but better still, you can engage the group to take care of meals for an entire week. If you have the group involved, sometimes it’s good to ask someone else to organize it, allowing her to use her organizational or administrative gifts, as well as eliminating duplication of meals and effort. It is considerate to find out if there are foods that should not be brought in due to medical restrictions or allergies.
Sit Together in Church
Purposely going out of your way to find someone in your group and sit with them, asking them if you can share a seat or a pew with them, lets them know you count them as a friend. It allows you to share the riches of the Word being preached, to worship together, and possibly to pray together.
It might also be a good idea to invite your whole group to sit together in church, building a group identity. You can share in the worship experience together and also be on the lookout together for others to include in your small group.
Get Away Together
A short getaway with some or all of the people in your group can go a long way toward building deep foundations for friendship and community. I have never liked the term “retreat.” Although there is, in part, a pulling back in such a time, I feel it is better termed an “advance!” I have seen great things happen when I get away from the hustle of life for even a few hours and work on building relationships, praying together, having fun, sharing meals, and serving one another.
If you do a little research in advance, you can structure your “advance” so it is easily accessible, inexpensive, and long-lasting in its impact. Don’t get caught in the trap of either trying to accomplish too much or structuring your time too loosely. Do give your people opportunity for times of quiet reflection and peaceful solitude. Expect God to meet you there and for the Holy Spirit to do a great work of refreshment, renewal, reconciliation, and personal growth.
Throw a Party with Your Group
Instead of your regular meeting, throw a party! Ask the host/hostess ahead of time, and then invite each person to bring soft drinks, paper ware, munchies, et cetera. You don’t have to make it too elaborate to have a good time. Celebrate the good things God has done or is doing. Have a few people share their stories of personal growth or triumph over a hard situation. Ask people to share praise reports concerning answered prayer. Have people share their dreams and hopes, and ask God to cover them with grace and courage to go after the dreams He has kindled in their hearts. Tell group members the good things you see God doing in their lives. Pick a few people, one at a time, and ask them to sit quietly while a few others in the group “bless” them through prayer. Have the group share with each other some positive aspect of that person’s life they have noticed or experienced.
One other good idea while you’re doing this is to show appreciation to the host/hostess. Let him or her know what a blessing such ongoing hospitality is to the group. Celebrate community!
Make Popcorn Together
Just hanging out together and enjoying simple things can bring great benefit. We can expect that where two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, He will be in our midst. So there is value in just showing up. The Holy Spirit lives in us and shows up when we do.
Spending time together increases in effect if we follow the admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:26: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” Make this your practice even when “the church” is two or three gathered to eat popcorn and share life.
Serve Your Neighborhood Together
Take some time during a group meeting to talk about service and outreach in the neighborhood where the group meets. Brainstorm together to discover the felt needs of your neighbors. Responding to felt needs may be as simple as taking their old newspapers to the recycling station, raking leaves and trash in front yards, or offering to clean out people’s rain gutters. Gather as many ideas as possible, then narrow them down to a handful that you can do in one hour on a weekday evening or on a Saturday. Start with tasks that people can do with little expense, equipment, or experience. Also limit activities to those that are low risk.
The events that work best and have the highest impact are those in which you have contact with a person. Say you decide to rake the front yard of a neighbor whose yard is littered with leaves and trash. Ask everyone in the group to bring a yard rake. Bring a large plastic yard bag in which to collect the refuse. Have one or two members of the group go to the front door and ask for permission to clean the yard. You can say something like, “Hi! We’re from a small group that meets down the street. We would like to rake up your front yard for you today!” The person at the door may ask “Why do you want to do that?” You can respond, “There is no charge! God’s love is free, and so is this simple act of kindness. If it’s okay with you, we are going to rake up your lawn, and you can tell us where to set the bag when we are done.” After you finish, you may be asked other questions like, “Who are you people?” Look for opportunities, and you may be able to invite the person(s) to your group.
If you decide to take on an activity that you can do without direct contact with a person, leave a prepared slip of paper in the door or under the windshield wiper that says something like, “We did this simple act of kindness to show you God’s love in a practical way. We hope we did a good job. If there is some other simple way we can serve you, please call us at this number, or come visit us on Tuesday evening for our Bible study!”
Go to a Concert Together
There’s something marvelous about music. Music can move the heart and take the listener on a mental adventure. Going to a live performance together with a member or members of your small group can be a tremendous way to deepen community. If you are able to attend a concert with Christian musicians, all the better. There is usually a time before the concert to talk and catch up, and afterward I like to plan a stop to share a beverage and debrief.
“What surprised or convicted you during the concert?” or “What was the highlight of the concert for you?” can be the beginning of a great conversation that can lead into other areas of life.
Sharing a concert together can build a special memory for all involved. Take an interest in the music that your group members listen to. It can serve as a starting point for conversation and give you insight into how they experience life. Music makes a big impact on many of us. By being aware of it, you can enter into a discussion about what the artist was attempting to communicate and the influence it has on people. In this way, concerts are doorways to understanding and serving people more deeply.
Hold a Garage Sale Together
Planning and working at a garage sale with the people in your group can be an enjoyable and profitable event. By spending time planning, advertising, and executing the garage sale, you can develop teamwork, offer additional opportunities for leadership, have fun, and raise money for your chosen purpose. You may want to use the money to help pay for a group retreat, or to pay for expenses of a group member who is laid off or dealing with a long term illness. You may want to use the funds generated by your sale to support a missionary or to help with a church-wide fundraising goal.
Many fun and productive things can happen in the planning and running of your garage sale. You will want to recruit people to head up the gathering of sale items, advertising the event, and scheduling the salespeople. Look for recruits from outside the usual core who are always involved in activities. Encourage others to be involved. Break down large tasks into bite-sized pieces so that they are easily accomplished. Just sitting together during the sale, waiting for shoppers, can provide time to talk and develop relationships. You may be surprised to see a person who has previously taken a passive role rise to the occasion and be a great organizer.
Cook a Meal Together
I am always amazed at what I find out about people whom I think I know when we are in situations that are out of the ordinary. I discover new and interesting facets of a person’s character, background, likes, and dislikes. Cooking a meal together is an opportunity to surface people’s ideas, assumptions, and habits. People have very specific and sometimes well-developed notions about how food should be prepared and served.
When you invite someone in your group to prepare a meal with you, take a little time to discuss what you are going to do and who is responsible for which tasks. You may need to go shopping together first; this expedition adds to the fun. I recently went food shopping for such a meal with a group member, and we had a blast! We had a scant shopping list but chose to improvise as we went. We ended up returning about a third of what we had tossed into the shopping basket. When we finally got around to cooking the meal, it turned into a laugh-fest. Everything seemed funny to the point of silliness, but we had a good time. I don’t remember if the meal was good, but the time spent together was a definite bonus!
Take the Lord’s Supper Together
Christians everywhere recognize the Lord’s Supper (Communion, the Eucharist, and the Table) as a sacrament or celebration central to the life of the gathered community of believers. In 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Paul repeats Jesus’ command to eat the bread and drink from the cup to commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death for the forgiveness of our sins. Whether your tradition is to celebrate the
Lord’s Supper weekly, monthly, or quarterly, you’ll grow from remembering our Lord’s command to keep doing this in remembrance of Him.
Some of my most memorable celebrations of the Lord’s Supper have taken place in small groups. Sometimes we planned ahead and had on hand grape juice and fresh-baked bread. At other times it was a more spontaneous response after reading the Last Supper accounts recorded in one of the gospels or in 1 Corinthians. On those occasions we had to improvise. I once remember using grape Kool-Aid and Saltine crackers. Because we did this in heartfelt response to the command in the gospels, the command had the same powerful impact upon our hearts and minds, and the sharing of the “elements” was holy and refreshing for all involved.
When I have taken Communion with home groups, it was often preceded or followed by testimonies from individuals remembering specifically powerful times at the Lord’s Table. Others recounted instances where the Word and the sacrament overwhelmed their souls with a sense of sorrow, repentance, and then the wash of forgiveness. How wonderful that we have this opportunity to celebrate with real elements this mystical and holy event.
In some traditions it would be acceptable for a pastor like me to celebrate Communion with my group, but not for a lay leader to do this. If that is the case in your tradition, you might consider inviting an ordained person to join your group for an evening. Alternatively, my current small group shares Communion together as we participate in the Lord’s Supper in our Sunday worship celebration. This custom has helped to bond us together and remind us that God is indeed doing a holy thing among us.
“Great Ideas to Create a Caring Group”. Written by Thom Corrigan
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”