Taking Your Small Group to the Streets
by Dave Arnold
It was a crisp, sunny day when I walked into a small, white chapel on the southwest side of Detroit. Surrounding the church were run-down liquor stores and boarded-up buildings. But inside was a different story. The atmosphere was very bright and lively. I was struck by the diversity of people (both socially and ethnically) who had come together in exuberant worship.
On this particular Sunday, a group of us were visiting an inner-city church called Military Avenue Evangelical Presbyterian Church to prepare and serve a big Thanksgiving meal for the congregation.
Before the feast, we joined the congregation for worship. It was a living mosaic as African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian worshippers all sang together, praising their Lord. After the songs, the pastor got up and preached his sermon with passion and enthusiasm. It was evident that this man loved his church and was devoted to his people and their tumultuous lives in this particular neighborhood.
The church drew all types of people, many of whom were low-income and poor. Sadly, crime, violence, drug abuse, homelessness and high unemployment were no strangers here.
In contrast to the darkness and grim realities of the streets, the church is a bright beacon of light in the middle of the neighborhood. I was amazed by the stark contrast between what I saw on the outside of the church and what I found inside. In spite of cultural and social differences, all were together, unified in the name of Jesus Christ.
After the service, we walked across the street to the recreational center the churched owned to get ready for the meal. The tables in the gym were decorated with Thanksgiving colors, and the food was spread out on tables. There was turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, and all the trimmings – it was a feast!
The next thing I knew, there were crowds of people standing in line outside of the recreational center. When the doors opened, they all came in and quickly took their seats at the tables. Most of them came from the church; but some had wandered in off the streets. The pastor welcomed everyone and said the blessing, and soon there was a long line at the table to get the food.
I was in charge of the gravy and had great opportunities to talk with people as I poured the brownish, lumpy stuff all over their potatoes and stuffing. Some wanted me to "drown" all of their food in it.
It was an incredible sight to see so many underprivileged and poor families enjoying a warm and very delicious Thanksgiving meal. Not only that, but I was delighted to watch 20 of my volunteers interact with, serve and love these people.
Those who volunteered and were serving are all part of a small group ministry at our church. Each small group signed up for a specific area – a couple of the groups had gone out the day before to buy all the food, another group was in charge of setting up, another serving, etc.
"I don't get an opportunity to serve people regularly," says Anne, a volunteer. "To have the opportunity to give people food who really need it is incredible. Most people I know are not in need."
As a small groups pastor, my role is to connect people into groups in order for them to experience genuine, biblical community. But I see a problem among small groups that, if left unchecked, can cause group isolation. The problem is that small groups can become too "inwardly" focused. They concentrate on the needs within their group (and rightly so!), the spiritual growth of the group, and accountability. But if a group looks inward all the time, it can grow numb to the many needs that surround us in our world.
Our church is located just outside one of America's most dangerous cities. Though Detroit is only 20 minutes away , it seems like another world compared to the comforts and safety of suburbia. That is why our small group ministry has developed a partnership with this urban church.
Being at Military Avenue awakens you to what's really going on in the city and the immense needs that people have everyday as they try to survive. "After today, because of seeing the children and all their needs, I want to come back more often. When you come here you really see the need," says Angie, who worked specifically with the children.
How often we can forget the needs of our world, especially those of our cities. Unless we consciously think about being exposed to these needs, we can easily grow numb and indifferent to them. Serving together with others is a great way to break from the numbness and the sameness of life.
"Serving together as a small group builds relationships with your group. It's a shared
experience that you can do together and make a difference," says Robert, a small group leader involved in this outreach.
As you look at New Testament Christianity, you will notice that there were no "lone Christians." The believers were in community with one another. Jesus sent out 70 disciples in pairs "to every city and place where He Himself was going to come" (Luke 10:1, NASB). There is something about doing ministry with others in a group setting that makes it more powerful.
Taking your small group to the street means being the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting and lost world. And there's something about doing ministry together as a team or a group that is truly powerful, and it many of us have noted how our experience at that church brought our small group closer because we worked as a team. Serving and loving others as a group is what Jesus did with his disciples. He didn't go by himself; nor did he send others out alone. He sent them in groups.
Don't get stuck in isolated Christianity. Find some people from your church, start a small group and go out and serve others. Or, if you are already in a small group, set aside time to serve people by getting out where their needs are. For when you do, you and your group will be changed and the Kingdom will be advanced.
Dave Arnold is the "NextGen" pastor [for ages 23-35] at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan.