Putting the “Home” in Home Groups

Putting the “Home” in Home Groups
by Zach deMoya

I’ve become increasingly aware over the past five or so years, having lived in a few different cities in that time and attended and worked with a variety of churches, that two things are true – and are also at odds.

First, and I don’t think COVID alone is to blame for this, members of churches – particularly young couples with kids – often don’t really know each other, even in the most intimate of congregations. We often know the people who we share a Sunday School class or a weekly ministry opportunity with, but that’s about it. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that even as a member of WRUMC for almost two years, I don’t particularly feel that I know many people outside of those involved with my work at Owenwood. Maybe that’s a personal problem! Or, more likely, maybe that’s how you feel too. This isn’t unique to this church, or any specific church – this is happening in churches all over the country, big, small, and everything in between.

Second, as churches become more and more pushed to the fringes of society – at least in theory, maybe not so much in Texas – I hear churchy people use the phrase “church home” to describe their congregations, their places of worship, and the people with which they worship. I get the theological claim here: one’s church is where they are most authentically themselves, in worship to God and seen in the image of God. And that as society wants less and less to do with the institutional church, we can retreat back to worship spaces for like-minded community and mission.

You’ve probably heard that as a church, we’ve been floating this maybe vague idea of “home groups” as a new opportunity for you to meet other people in the church, idealistically people who are in a similar life stage as you, may face some of the same challenges you do, have similarly-aged kids, etc., but maybe you don’t know what committing to being in a “home group” looks like. As someone whose spiritual formation has been almost completely shaped by being a part of several diverse and unique “home groups” over the last 15 years, I’d like to offer a bit of a testimonial to their power, why I think they’re important in the life of the church, and perhaps offer you an invitation to take the step in being a part of one this spring.

I think back fondly on my time in three different home groups, in three different cities, in three different life stages, in three different Christian denominations – quite a journey! I grew up in a Methodist church that I would probably never go back to for a variety of reasons, but still have fond memories of because of the small group I was in during my teenage and early college years. Most of my lifelong best friends emerged from this group that met on Sunday nights at my friend Matt’s house, where we chose to meet because his parents had a pool and a big TV to play video games on after “the God talk” ended. We had this really loose framework called the four “Gs” to guide our discussions: God, grades, games, and girls (this was a group of high school guys, don’t judge us!) It sounds kind of silly to think back about, but since most of us were relatively social guys who all played sports, this was a really good framework to meet us where we were! Our small group leader used the four Gs to get us to open up about our thoughts, feelings, and struggles in each area, which fostered a sense of togetherness, in that we shared common struggles and celebrations, and also accountability, that other people in our lives knew what was going on behind the scenes and under the facades. That’s a huge reason these guys all are still close to my heart, even as I live over a thousand miles away from all of them.

When I was 21, I started leading a “life group” at an Evangelical mini-mega-church (long story, ask me in person, it’s a ride), which meant that I was tasked with the spiritual formation of anywhere from 10-15 college-aged guys as they navigated the challenges and circumstances of being in college. No pressure at all! And the church wanted me, as a leader, to follow a set curriculum that aligned with the various sermon series on Sundays. We didn’t really do that. My life group became a space where we could be really candid about our searches for meaning, for jobs, for partners and spouses, and for understanding our places in the world as Christians being shaped in an increasingly “non-Christian” social space at a big state school in a capital city. We talked openly and candidly about anything from marriage to police brutality to race relations to sexuality to capitalism to kneeling for the anthem, and everything in between. There was no framework here – it was a group of guys, who weren’t particularly “friends” with one another, but consistently valued setting aside two or three hours every week to come to a safe place – usually my pretty ugly living room in my rental house from the 1920s – and talk about anything on their minds, knowing that what was shared most often never left the walls of the living room. It was safe, it was honest, tears were shed, laughs were had, and I miss that dearly, even if I don’t miss that church at all.

While I was in seminary in Durham, North Carolina, I got an opportunity to lead a “home group” that was pretty evenly mixed between “abled” and “differently abled” folks. Around those friends, I don’t think I’ve ever smiled or laughed as purely as I did in those spaces! Deep discussion about the Bible or theology or politics was never on the agenda. We usually ate tacos – and made a mess eating tacos – then sang songs, played games, and shared one highlight from our week, which one person sometimes (read: always) said was “seeing all of you.” It was so pure! It had no agenda besides just being together. It didn’t go deep or anything, but at the same time, I think that was the point: where two or more may gather, God was with us, in the music and the laughter and probably not in the taco meat.

I feel relatively confident that a home group at WRUMC will not look exactly like any of the three stories I just shared. And I think that’s the most exciting part of it all for me. I think the beauty of a home group is that it can mold to be whatever the people in it need it to be. Maybe not always what we want it to be, but what we need. If you know your Methodist history, you know that the earliest people called Methodists met weekly in “bands” and had frank conversations around one guiding question: “how is it with your soul?” I have a feeling this is not a question that is regularly being asked of us in our daily lives, or one we’re regularly asking ourselves! But, friends, if there is any testament I can give to why you should join a home group, it’s not to talk about the four Gs or to discuss the political issues of the day or to eat bad tacos. The reason you should strongly consider joining a home group, even if it seems difficult to figure out logistically during our always busy weeks, is because answering the question “How is it with your soul?” in a room full of people that you get to worship God with on Sunday mornings is one of the most liberating and revitalizing things you can do as part of a church. You get to know one another beyond how they present themselves and their families on Sundays, and their basic biographical information that you can probably find on their Facebook profiles. You get to know folks on a truly personal level, what they’re going through, what they’re celebrating, what they’re mourning, and what’s been on their mind that they just haven’t had anyone to talk to about. I think that’s what people are often projecting when they talk about being at their “church home.” When we’re well and truly home, we’re known, we’re seen, we’re safe, and we’re loved. This is my hope for myself and for all of us in launching home groups over the next few months – that everyone has the opportunity, in their own unique ways, to feel more at home at White Rock United Methodist Church.

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