A few weeks ago at a small gathering of pastors, we were asked to name the thing that always comes up when we preach. For days afterwards I gave the question a bit of thought. When the skies parted and I could see clearly what that thing was, I was amazed, but at the time same time, I grinned with the certainty of my answer: Lifegroups.
For those of you who don’t know what a Lifegroup is, I’m happy to explain. There are many different kinds of Lifegroups, but basically the idea is that you meet with a small group of people on a regular basis to ‘do life together’ and to grow spiritually.
There are also different names for Lifegroups. They can be called Net, Cell, or Small Groups. The goal behind them all is the same: you get to know people in a way you can’t possibly at a weekly service, and you grow from each other’s wisdom, knowledge, and life experience.
When I first became a Christian in rural Belize, I was part of a series of small groups made up of women from different backgrounds. We read through books, confided in each other, and helped each other grow step by step into Christian maturity.
Those small groups were a bit exclusive, in that, once we started a book, no one else was allowed to join except by group permission. However, every time we started a new book we opened it up for any woman that wanted to join us. That way, our group evolved, and although there were some members who were constant, many came for only a single season as their schedules allowed. I was quite happy with this as a model.
As my family moved from one place to another I always looked for a small group I could join even if a home church was still something I was searching for. In Belize City, at the Chinese Presbyterian church I went through a few Beth Moore teachings (I was obsessed with how she dressed as a woman minister, thinking ahead to when I would one day be as well). In Belmopan, I opened up my home for small group after small group, (that was where, as a group we did the Five Love Languages, and I got so angry at the concept of filling someone else’s ‘love tank’ and hoping that would make them want to fill up mine).
I heard about net groups when I joined the Foursquare church. Anyone can come to a net group anytime they want to; there is no exclusivity – meaning, even if as a group we are going through a book, someone new is welcome to show up at any point and join the discussion. That went against the small group model that had worked for me for years, and I objected.
I liked the safety of knowing the people in my small group and not having any surprises. So, I put up a fight and for years refused to go to any net group. After all, taking a night out of the week to do so is a sacrifice anyway. I could just stay home and chill – and so I did.
Then one night I decided to just go. Years after being in the church I then called home, I showed up at a net group to a warm welcome. When I got in my truck that night to head over there, I didn’t know that God had a gift prepared for me, that only I would understand and appreciate, and that would most likely be with me for the rest of my life.
As we prayed that night I was given a message of hope that made no sense to me, but was overwhelming for that very reason. No one there knew the reality of the things I was walking through, but that message spoke right to my life, and birthed a hope for the future that I desperately needed. The Lord met with me in that ordinary home, on an obscure night, and gave me a gift box that I would open over and over again in the years of darkness that followed. What if I hadn’t gone that night? Would I never have received that gift meant for me?
It makes sense to me why the thing that comes up whenever I preach is inviting people to get together outside of a Sunday worship service to help each other grow spiritually. Whether it’s called small/net/cell/life group, the objective is the same: spiritual growth and living in community with other people. All forms of these groups have helped to shape me; and because they are so readily available, I want for others to receive the benefits I have.
Maybe the key to why these groups work can be found in Jesus’ words, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt 18:20 NASB1995). It’s as if, by making the sacrifice to show up with other believers in the casual setting of a Lifegroup, we are opening the door to Jesus and He just walks right in.
Although I’ve occasionally had a strong reaction to the study we were going through, and been vocal about it, (like the one from Andy Stanley that I will not name), the benefits of these groups far outweigh those. Let me give you a few examples of some of the good things received as a result of attending a Lifegroup:
Direction – Once at a Lifegroup as we were getting ready to move to Washington State, I asked them to pray for us to find a house to live in as we didn’t know where we were going to live. A half hour later as we were pulling into the garage at home, we got a call that a couple was willing to let us use their home rent-free for the first few months, giving us time to get to know the area and find a place of our own.
New life lessons – At Lifegroups you get to know other people better and have conversations about life. From recipes to hair tips to great hiking trails and holiday spots, to each other’s life stories, you come away from these times together learning more about each other. You realize that people are so much more than the judgments you might have made about them.
Laying on of hands – Occasionally at Lifegroups there will be the laying on of hands when someone is walking through something extremely difficult. That happened for me once in a small group session in Punta Gorda, Belize. It was coming up on the tenth anniversary of the death of my son, and I was in a sunken, depressive state that always accompanied that time of year. The women laid hands on me and prayed fervently for me, and their prayers for me changed my perspective and response to the loss I had suffered. It was a turning point in how I grieved. I’ve also seen this powerful effect that laying on off hands has had on other people.
Friendship – Friendships blossom in the Lifegroup space. I think of the many faces I’ve sat across from in these settings. The memory or thought of each one brings specific memories and emotions. The people you laugh and converse with, pray for and who pray for you – these are the people you do life with, and even when seasons change and you both move on, they remain a part of who you are and of your story. There’s the young woman I would never have crossed paths with on a Sunday morning in our church of 250-300 people, but because we sat across a picnic table at a Net group for a season, is someone who has become a friend. And there’s the older man whose quick wit I would have missed out on if it wasn’t for a Lifegroup.
Lifegroups are made up of imperfect humans, just like you and me, but when these imperfect ones get together in the Name of the Jesus, something happens that changes lives and brings hope. Learning from each other, hearing the stories straight from the mouths of those who’ve experienced a different life than we have, helps us all to grow in wisdom.
I invite you to check out the Lifegroups at your local church. There are usually a bunch of options so you should be able to find one that interests you. The sacrifice of giving up a couple hours a week (or every other week)is worth it. In exchange you receive the unexpected gifts the Father already has prepared for you in the form of others praying for you, speaking a truth you need to hear, and giving you a perspective that you need.
And all you have to do is show up….
Ⓒ Debbie Mendoza, April 2022