The fact that when I took on being House Group Co-ordinator in 2008, I asked the name to be changed to ‘small groups’ reflects the fact that although I was committed to the importance of meeting together outside Sunday services, I was also aware that many church members were no longer part of the house group system and that with no change and virtually no new members in recent years, house groups were becoming detached from the new people gradually coming into church. However I had no obvious solution to this.
Evan grasped this nettle over a year ago and started us on the journey to put the groups back at the heart of church life, so that belonging to St Thomas and belonging to a group would naturally go together rather than being a minority activity. The principles of ‘In, Out & Up’ in fact took us back to what groups were originally envisaged to be, places for spiritual growth, mutual support and a springboard for outreach.
During 2011, the house groups and the church as a whole through the Lent Course, went through teaching and discussion on what these principles meant in practice, as house groups moved towards becoming Life Groups. Some found this a smoother process than others but the vast majority have embraced groups that are open and organic with an expectation of growth and as a result we are seeing some long term members coming back into a group and new church members are also joining.
It was soon realised that we needed some degree of training in order for long-standing groups to adapt to people who might be new to church or new in their faith and leader’s meeting are evolving to include that. Keith Capp has come on board to help with ideas for groups to engage in evangelistic ideas that go beyond the traditional socials.
The current challenge is handling ‘multiplication’, when a group becomes too big and having enough people coming up to be group leaders. I am starting a much needed second Tuesday group but this will leave my own group without a leader at least in the short term. One small group is also considering its options as the current leaders step down.
We are looking to run a pilot of the ‘Freedom in Christ’ course, an excellent and potentially life-changing course that can benefit new and older believers by encouraging us to renew our minds in the light of Bible truth which has a big effect on how effective our faith is in real life. The parish church has been working round its house groups with this so we’re starting with one group in September. How best to disciple new believers following an outreach course of whatever type is something we haven’t quite nailed and new members at the moment seem to be Christians already, perhaps God’s way of building a firm foundation for the next wave of new people that we pray might be new converts.
Other small groups continue to meet in the week, meeting various needs and we are open to anything that helps the church to fulfil its purpose and for which a need is shown to exist. The new Crafters group meets monthly and attracts about 15 people including some who don’t attend church.