Life groups are not only about particular worship practices that you may use during intimate meetings. It is about sharing with one another in various stages of life. I consider life groups from the perspective that all life is some type of worship that we give to God. Living life together in community is a grand moment, and we experience God in our daily worship. Sharing life’s story to bond with a group and develop a spirit of trust must be developed among the group. Life groups have a unique quality, and, if done right, are a spiritual blood family. We are able to build unique bonds with others at the pinnacle times of our lives. Some bonds last forever and some just for a season. We understand that we are creatures that thrive on seasonal living. Each year we encounter the 4 seasons here in our local climate. We are blessed with Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. I believe we are blessed with different seasons of Life Group as well.
College age and young adults, single or married: In these years we are finding ourselves, exploring our faith in a new realm of young adulthood, searching for community.
Married with and without kids: Life groups in this stage support each other and live life in community together. They meet in various places like parks, playgrounds, McDonalds, etc. They may travel together.
Empty Nesters: May be composed of families with grown children, widows, divorcees, and later day singles.
There may be some variance to each of these designations, but in attempts to provide a well rounded picture we have settled on these seasons. However, this is not an exhaustive list, and I acknowledge there may be more complexity to explore, but for the sake of brevity we will address these.
College Age/Young Adults
College age and young adults have a strong ministry presence, great energy, and fiery zeal for God, with a lot of new perspectives of what Life Groups are and how they function. During this time period of life the young life group members begin to figure out their place within their churches. Some may continue in the college church, some move back to home congregations, and some move to new churches in new cities depending on their professional progression and directions. Either way, each brings a different perspective and adventure in plugging into the local church.
Finding the right group is key. Group dynamics are a must with any life group. If you are a person who likes to be really active in ministry and volunteering, You do not want to join a group that only does bible study once a month or group service once a year. It is vitally important to meet with your prospective life group leaders and see what the group's core values are and if they match with your own. Getting to know meeting new people in the church is another way of finding your place. Volunteering at or going to College/young adult ministry events and mixers. Volunteering for the hospitality ministry is the best way to meet new people and for them to meet you. Once members realize you are here to stay, not just taste testing the church, they are more likely to invest personal capital in building new relationships with you.
From a “seeking” perspective, discovering when it is safe to invest personal capital in a new church is a great question. The answer is found in relationships and cannot be easily answered by someone outside of the established relationship, but an answer that must be given by the Spirit of God in due time. What we do know is that life together is very important according to scripture:
“Two people are better than one.
They can help each other in everything they do.
Suppose someone falls down.
Then his friend can help him up.
But suppose the man who falls down doesn’t have anyone to help him up.
Then feel sorry for him!
Or suppose two people lie down together.
Then they’ll keep warm.
But how can one person keep warm alone?
One person could be overpowered.
But two people can stand up for themselves.
And a rope made out of three cords isn’t easily broken.”
Eccles 4:9-12 (NIrV)
Married with or without Children
Married with kids are the years where the aforementioned groups may overlap. Young college age married couples have kids too. The child-rearing portion of life is the most interesting and has a lot of complexity. Especially with life group gatherings it is difficult but not impossible to make this work during this hectic time of life. During this time of our lives our children play a major role in who we are. Our first instinct is to care, nurture, and mold their spiritual exposure.
So how do we do life groups when we have kids? How do we have deep connecting discussions with other adults in our life groups? How do we do this thing right? Some suggestions I received from well seasoned life group leaders are the following:
- Baby sitters: Some life groups have come together and hired a babysitter for certain life group meetings where all adults can be active in discussion and activities.
- Alternating babysitting duties: some life groups have various ways of rotating baby watching by allowing the fathers to do it one meeting or mothers do it at another time. Additionally, they may even rotate couples.
- Arrange meetings in open spaces: Parks, McDonald’s, play dates, etc. Some homes cannot accommodate large groups of kids. Therefore, using parks, playgrounds, etc make it more doable to meet.
- Life and Sporting Events: Vacationing together or supporting each other's children provides a time to commune around being parents. Supporting each other as parents during this time is very important to life group success.
- Include children in some life group activities.
- Consult Empty Nesters who have successfully navigated this segment of life.
These suggestions may or may not work for every group; these are very dependent upon the group and your life situation. During this season of life it would be recommended to leave room for new ideas and experimenting with diverse ways of approaching the challenge of life group with kids. One thing to remember is that size of the group is very important, with children involved you would want to keep your group fairly small, 3 to 5 families maximum. Learning to do life groups with kids can be very eventful and fulfilling for the kids as well as the adults.
Married without children
Life groups for members who do not have children are a bit more flexible. Although, for some who have fur babies, this is something that others in the group would need to be made aware of in case someone should have an allergy to pets. Usually couples without children are able to engage in deeper life conversations if they are a member of a group of like pairing. Life Groups that become diverse as they continue to grow and then incorporate children later can interrupt group homeostasis. As time progresses, you may become a caretaker for a parent or relative. Depending upon the degree of care needed, this might cause a disruption among the group.
Life group has its challenges because it is life in real time, with all the messiness and particularities that come with it. This is the absolute reason we desperately need community relationships. Consequently, this is why each life group has its own unique flow and function that they have to figure out. The ebb and flow of life group is trying to figure out how to put the puzzle together. Suggestion: communication and prayer together.
Life groups should never be burdensome. Thus, if you find yourself in a position where gathering with those you love is burdensome, then this may be time to reframe and re-envision how your life group is functioning. Has the season come to an end or to the point where you need to redirect energy? Dissolving a life group is not a bad thing, as long as it is done with graceful intentions. Life Groups should never have a vampiric effect on the members of the group. Life groups are not meant to drain life, but to help to reinvigorate and provide a sense of renewal. In some instances, the Life Group may want to partake in renewal measures to help get back on track if they go off the proverbial rails.
Time seems to be a challenge in most cases. What time will we meet? We do not have time to meet? Our schedule timing is off? This is the same for groups who do not have kids but are struggling to find “time” to meet. Maybe it is not a real time issue, could it be that the issue is how the group answers the felt needs of the group members. Could it be at this season of life your perceived value for life group has dipped? These are a couple of several questions that could be asked. In these times assessment of the group is needed to provide a clear vision of everyone's expectations and values for the group.
The nest is empty. The children are in college, married off, or living their best life outside of your four walls. A new season of life evolves and what to do with the time and freedom you have gained. This can be a very jarring time of life learning to live as two again rather than a tribe of 3 or more people. Otter Creek has been blessed to have a few groups who have been together for over 30+ years and they have been blessed to navigate these waters from young adults to empty nesters together. They have raised their kids together and have great memories that have been made and are treasured by multiple families.
A great practice I have seen in these groups is they make time to meet to break bread together. This may be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, but the point is they have figured out what works best for them and they execute. This is one of the biggest challenges for any demographic concerning life groups finding the time to break bread. Communication and cooperation are the best remedies I have seen. Leaders, please be sure you are communicating expectations to the group so everyone is on the same page. Once groups tend to have clear direction, meetings and service gathering become easier.