“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” – I Samuel 12:14.
On one occasion, Thomas Beecher substituted for his famous brother Henry Ward Beecher at a church service. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas appeared in the pulpit instead, some of the people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas Beecher raised his hand for silence and announced, “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”
How often do we jump to the wrong conclusion when meeting someone for the first time? How often have we come away with a bad first impression or when appearances are not what we were expecting? It happens in life and it certainly can happen in small groups as well. But appearances and first impressions are not always accurate and can lead to bad conclusions. And what’s more we may miss out on something that God has planned for us. Maybe God had something special to say through the words of the less famous brother Thomas Beecher.
Maybe your first impression, or even your general impression of small groups is not positive. Maybe you had a bad experience. Or maybe the group you tried did not fulfill your expectations. Maybe, with all good intentions, church leadership has over promised the benefits of being in a small group. Maybe we have over sold small groups by selling people on the idea that they will make life-long friends, that every meeting will leave you feeling happy about life, and that small groups are the cure-all for all that ails you. I believe small groups can be life changing and help you grow spiritually. But that takes time and trust. It will not happen overnight.
In small groups, you will find other people who are also new to the small-group experience. When you try something new, you’re worried about what to expect: the depth of study, the group dynamics. People who have been part of groups for a while forget how nerve-racking it can be. But remember that you’re not the only person who’s new to small groups. So give it time. Remember that meeting for only a few weeks doesn’t usually translate into a life-long friendship simply because you’ve met. Trust will deepen over time. As your trust deepens, your discussions can go deeper as well. Don’t expect to jump into the deep end at the first meeting. It’s simply a natural part of forming relationships.
And finally, like in any relationship. you will get back what you put into your group. If you stick to it, deeper trust and relationships will develop. Scripture talks about getting back what you put in when it says, “What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvest a crop of real life, eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8, MSG).
- Have you attended a group and come away with a bad first impression? Do you think that impression would have changed over time?
- How do we get past the first impressions?
- Join a small group and stay the course to see what happens.