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Building Relationships in Community

In the fast-paced, technologically advanced world of the twenty-first century, there are a multitude of ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and co-workers: e-mail, cell phones, videoconferences, digital cameras, the Internet. And if those toys are a little "over the top" for us, we can always rely on the plain ol' telephone or postal service. In fact, it is so simple to contact anyone at any time that Reba McEntire had a hit country tune a few years ago called "Why Haven't I Heard From You"?

Yet rarely a day goes by without reports of murders, riots, domestic violence, abuse, civil war, or terrorist attempts somewhere in the world. Our ability to communicate quickly and easily does not guarantee healthy communication, healthy relationships, or good news.

In the midst of this complex and often paradoxical world, the church is called to live and serve. The faith we share proclaims a God who has created us for relationship, a God whose nature is loving, compassionate, and merciful. As we gather in worship and in small groups, we seek to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who came that we might have peace with God and live in harmony with one another.

Take a few minutes to think about the small groups offered through your congregation. Some may be Sunday school classes; others may be weekly Bible studies, prayer groups, or mission groups. Other groups may be short-term, meeting to study a particular issue or to accomplish a specific task. Some may involve a large number of people, while others include only a few.

Regardless of size, format, and schedule for meeting, each of these groups provides opportunities for children, youth, and adults to experience Christian community -- community centered in Jesus Christ and focused on living as disciples in the world. Small groups in the church should provide hospitable, safe places for people to explore their relationship with God, discover their spiritual gifts, practice spiritual disciplines, and find support and encouragement to grow in God's grace. Small groups in the church should be places of hospitality — welcome, acceptance, and belonging in the name of Christ.

Paul's letter to the church in Rome reminds us that we are the body of Christ. One of the ways we experience this reality is in small groups. As you evaluate, plan, and implement small-group ministries, talk with small-group and class leaders about what you hope to accomplish through small groups. Invite teachers to identify the knowledge and skills they need to provide spiritual leadership for their groups. Enlist the support of the church council and congregation for your plans. And celebrate when you can on all the good things your ministry can, will, and does accomplish in the coming year.

A diaconal minister in the Tennessee Conference, Carol F. Krau is Director of Adult Faith Formation at the Discipleship Ministries, in Nashville, TN. This article first appeared in Christian Education Week, 2001; edited, 2011.