We are in the process of becoming a church of small groups. Throughout this transition, we have heard people share their opinions, suggestions, doubts and fears. Some have had great small group experiences in the past and some have not. Some people are skeptical and some are overly joyed and excited about the change. We are gaining momentum and most people can’t wait to get started. People are craving community with one another. We know that we do not have it all figured out and we will make mistakes and adjustments along the way. However, I strongly believe that small group success is predetermined by the message we communicate. Our message is this:
Small groups is not a program to participate in but a lifestyle to live.
We clearly see the early church in the book of Acts living out a lifestyle of fellowship, worship, discipleship, prayer, and evangelism. The community they enjoyed with one another was not a program that the “church” asked them to participate in, but a lifestyle that they lived. The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. People are generally not attracted to a program, but they are attracted to a lifestyle that they seek.
Four differences between a program and a lifestyle.
1. A program is external, but a lifestyle is internal. When I see a program that I’m invited to participate in, I immediately look at whether or not the program will “fit” into my life. If I see problems, challenges or inconveniences in the program, I am not likely to participate. Obstacles in the program are for someone else to remove in order to facilitate my participation. However, if I choose to live a certain lifestyle, it becomes personal. A lifestyle that I choose to live is internalized and I take ownership. I now have ownership of the obstacles, challenges and inconveniences. If I decide to live a lifestyle of health and fitness, I will take ownership of my meal choices, carve out time for exercise, set my alarm to get up earlier, arrange for childcare to go to the gym, and invest the money necessary.
2. A program has rules, a lifestyle has principles. A program generally has a set of rules that dictate what, where, when, and how. Again, if it doesn’t fit into my life I am less likely to make it a part of my life. A lifestyle has principles that govern the what, where, when, and how. If I am going to change my lifestyle, I need the flexibility to make decisions so that I can rearrange my life in such a way that my quality of life is enhanced not burdened. Principles provide guidelines and equip people to live a lifestyle that moves them in the right direction.
3. A program has an entrance and an exit, a lifestyle is continuous. If I participate in a program, I immediately think of when to enter and always have the option of exiting the program. Although a lifestyle can ebb and flow, it is a continuous process of living rather than something to jump in and out of.
4. A program is something we do, a lifestyle is who we are. I think people are getting burned out trying to do things that add quality to their lives, when what they really desire is to simply be the person God created them to be. The more we try to do the more worn out and frustrated we become. We don’t need more to do that becomes burdensome, we need to live the life God designed for us in freedom and joy.
In essence, Jesus said let’s take all the rules (ten commandments and the law) and not do away with them, but wrap them into two principles that people can live out: love God and love people.
We will find the life we’re looking for when we return back to the lifestyle that God designed.