Celebrate returning to faith, hope, culture and life with community.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Create and Foster
a Young Adult Community Group

The responsibility landed in my lap, as most do.

This was all thanks to a leader at my church I've called home for more than three years. If you don't believe in karma, or an off-brand of it at the very least, just know that beginning a young adult community group came about during a time in my life (real and writing) when I was complaining a lot  about the capital-C-Church's lack of community for young adult women.

It seemed the Church-world offered two choices when it came to small groups: a nine a.m. women's study with free childcare for children I was nowhere near having and conflicted with general business hours, or heavy, theological studies that made graduate coursework look like finger-painting.

So for years, I complained. Neither option offering what it was I truly wanted to be a part of. A community the likes of people like Shauna Niequist have acquired: a place to ask hard questions. A place for meaningful support without judgement. A place to be wrong, a place to not have sparkling, gold-star answers to complicated questions.

What I didn't know was that there was a third choice. A hidden step in creating community that proves the most daunting and, if you're lucky, the most fun. And that step...

Is just to begin.

Pick a book. Pick a night of the week. And roll with it. If I had spent as much effort starting a community group as I did time complaining about the capital-C Church's lack of young adult community, I'd have ten groups at three different churches.

To begin is to be vulnerable. It's to put your personality, your home, your reputation on the line. It means potential rejection. It means disagreements. Maybe even hurt feelings.

But it could also mean healing. It could mean redemption. It could mean the world.

Start Small

Even to an extrovert's extrovert, there's nothing more jarring or vulnerable than sitting in a circle and confessing your deepest secrets/struggles to a group of strangers.

It's easy to want to drive expectations through the roof. We're going to take over the world and have really meaningful conversations about life and our faith journeys and we're all going to be best friends and...

Slow down, sister.

Let the first couple of meetings be heavy on chat time. After all, many deep friendships are built upon logged hours of small talk.

Our group gets off track. A lot. And guess what? It's fun. It's supposed to be fun. Many of our funnier and goofier conversations have led to moments of buoyant clarity.

Be Sensitive to Time

To show up consistently to a group each week is a big time commitment. It's always easier not to go. Our lives and social calendars offer us a multitude of excuses. This means if your group ends at seven p.m., pray out. Give the people who need to prepare for their week, make dinner, do their laundry, a chance to dip out.

You can always leave space for people to stick around, especially if there's an individual in a crises or if the fellowship is too sweet to break away from. But the general rule of thumb is: if your group meets for one hour, stick to one hour.

Also, keep in mind major holidays. Our general rule is that we don't meet the weekend of a holiday to give members more time with family or recovery time from dozens of parties, travel plans or house guests.

For instance, our group takes a little hiatus over a month during the summer. This lets us rest. And miss each other and start off strong.

Celebrate Together

I come from a family that equates party planning as a spiritual gift. Have a friend graduating from law school? Celebrate! Moving out of town to begin a new career? Celebrate! Wedding, new baby, book-release? It's time to party!

Nothing bonds people together more than joining in on their big moments. Besides, how can you rally together through the hard times if you haven't practiced rallying for the happy moments?

It's Not Personal

There was a season almost a year ago where we lost several members of our group at once. Our group of close to eleven girls dwindled to five. This was due to a cocktail of social differences: big life changes, or, it just wasn't what some people needed.

I was worried. And I confessed to my co-leader (side note: this is also important. If you don't have one, grab a girl you trust big time. She'll be your fall-back and a voice of reason if you ever find yourself in a sticky place. Especially if yours is an attorney, like mine is) that I was ready to throw in the towel. To stop putting myself, my home, my resources out there if it meant rejection.

She very wisely said:

"You have to think about what this group is doing for the girls who show up. Maybe it wasn't for them. But it's for us."

The knot in my stomach ironed itself out. There's a fine line between self-absorption and self-awareness, and I'd crossed the threshold, victimizing myself (really, the marks of a great friend, right?). Turns out, changes to the group over time are natural, and even a sign of health.

Be Patient

Friendships take time. And really nothing stifles growth more than impatience. Give your group a chance to grow. Life is more fun when you have the resilience to do it all together.

This process is, of course, far more complicated than a six-step listicle. Have any questions about starting a small group or thoughts about creating community? Leave me a comment below!

photo credit: Tea Time via photopin (license)


Laurie Tomlinson said...

I bookmarked this post the other day because it inspired me to set in motion the dream I've had since college to have a small group for college girls. I am dreaming and planning and have a meeting set up about it! Thank you! <3

Brett W. Tubbs said...

Those girls are so lucky! If you'd like any book recommendations, let me know :) Although, we're a fairly chill, distractable bunch.

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