Better Homes & Small Groups

My wife gets Better Homes & Gardens. She has a green thumb so she focuses on the “Gardens” half, but I find myself thumbing through the “Homes” half. It’s always full of well-appointed rooms that beg me to come sit with a book, or flourishing patio scenes under festival lights and hanging vines just waiting for a dinner party. I always think, “I want to live there."

I get the same feeling when I read small group literature. 

It seems like a lot of small groups stuff paints an idyllic picture of group life — laughter-filled table scenes with fine wine and great weather. I think that’s what a lot of us expect when we join a small group. I call it the “Friends Syndrome.” We expect to step into a sit-com where everyone is attractive and funny and we have a hip place to hang out and our apartments are always well-kept and there are no children spilling juice on the new rug. I started to get that feeling when I read this article by Shauna Niequist.

She says,

I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you’ve ever heard, the best stories you’ve ever lived.

A beautiful scene, right? This is Better Homes & Small Groups. And I think, “Of course Shauna Niequist has a small group like that. Of course her life looks like a magazine. Because she’s awesome!" 

But that’s not what group life really looks like.

And that’s why I appreciate the very next sentence in her blog:

There will be a day when it all falls apart.

Even published authors and "Christian celebrities" like Shauna Neiquist don’t have TV-quality small groups. Life beats us all up. And sometimes life makes our conversations awkward, our hearts dull, our food bland and our houses messy. Sometimes instead of feeding our friends “with love and honesty and creativity” it feels more like we are choking down chicken nuggets and trying to get by. 

And, as Shauna points out, those times when life is ugly are the very times when we most need community.

The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking.

If you’re in a small group, I hope you’re not discouraged that your meetings don’t look like catalog photo shoots. I hope you can look back at the last several months and see places where life was ugly or awkward — where you were ugly and awkward — but you knew you had people to share the load. I hope you’ll see places where Jesus and your friends both showed up in the “inevitable mess”. Because if that’s happening in your small group, that’s a scene worth celebrating. Even if it’s surrounded by dirty dishes.

Ryan SandersComment