Leading Small Groups when Even Small Groups are Canceled

So COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and is uniquely addressing how we live life in Texas—as well as basically anywhere. The city is largely shutting down for at least two weeks as we all attempt to “flatten the curve” (most of us not knowing what that meant until recently).

Many churches have stopped meeting for a while—with the large majority of church gatherings exceeding the recently-established 50-person threshold, while all of them fail to keep people from being in “close contact” with others. Never fear, many churches have small group gatherings that meet in homes throughout the city. We got this . . . right?

Then, today happens. And social gatherings of 10 or more are encouraged to cease for at least the next 15 days. That’s a while. So how do we address this?

Church gatherings aren’t normal gatherings. You might think they are just social events that come and go like sporting events (and don’t get my kids started on no March Madness—the world almost ended on that one). Gathering together is essential to how Christians operate. We are actually commanded not to neglect meeting together (Heb 10:24-25).

So with a new (temporary) normal on the horizon, here are a few ways to lead your smaller gatherings even while you don’t meet in close proximity.

Find Ways to Connect

You are still able to connect with those in your group and your church through other means. These are temporary means. As I said at the beginning, the church wasn’t made to gather online. It isn’t virtual; it is local (and it is eternal). However, during this time, you have to find regular ways to adapt to the new (temporary) normal. Here are a few:

  • Schedule a regular call with your group. If your small group meets at 5:30pm, call everyone at 5:30 and see how they are. Use Facetime or Zoom or Google Hangouts to follow up. There are plenty of free options. They aren’t a replacement for being face to face, but they help—and your group needs it.
  • Most groups already have a mechanism for quick communication (FB groups, Group Me, group text, etc.). Don’t use it less but use it more. Every day be asking how people are, how you can pray for them, what they need, etc. Share stories and jokes and encouragement. Own this season and make the most of it.
  • Follow along together with your churches in whatever way they are creating content. At Genesis, we used a mom and pop FB Live stream on Sunday to provide our normal sermon material. It was weird to talk to a camera, but it helped. Keep following along with what your church is doing, even in the absence of physical gatherings.

Find Ways to Care

One of my larger concerns for folks is the way that these new guidelines affect people financially and emotionally. There could definitely be a longer recovery ahead than anyone wants. Christians should lead the way in how to serve others during this time. Don’t avoid people who have need. Don’t hide from them. Your neighbor might need you right now. They might need groceries. They might need a conversation. They might need money (seriously). (You can Venmo them if you don’t want to write a check or give them cash.) It’s your time to let the Lord shine through you; I mean that. Worst case is, in an act of benevolence, you get sick and you lose your life. Don’t let that worry you. Jesus says that type of outcome is actually fine (Matt 10:28). Now comes the time to see if we actually believe what he has always said.

Point People to Jesus

It is funny what a hiatus on life does to our hearts. Some see it as panic; some see it as overreaction; others think it’s nothing. As you lead folks into how they are processing this change to their lives, remind them about having the proper perspective—which can only come when we look to Jesus. What does that mean?

  • Jesus is the one who quiets our hearts. He is the one who is sovereign and good. When people in your group are nervous, remind them that God is a comforter (2 Cor 1:3-7).
  • Jesus is no stranger to adjusting for the sake of others. I don’t mean to be overly Jesus juke-y, but remember Hebrews 12:2—Jesus endured the cross for “the joy set before him.” That idea is important to remember. We can—and should—adjust our lives for the sake of others. The Son of God did it for us so that we could be reconciled—he served in the most significant of ways. He died so we could live. If that’s too much of a stretch, consider John 13:34-35. When people in your life (or you) start to complain about these newly-given constraints, remind them that living your life for the benefit of others is the way of Jesus.
  • Jesus’ Spirit gives us the qualities and characteristics we need to live in these times. In fact, the message this Sunday (3/22) is on the fruit of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit—I’d encourage you to listen. And if you’d like reinforcement, here is one of my favorite theology profs on that very idea:

Finally, if you are a Christian, remember that we were not made for this world (1 Pet 2:11). These changes to how we live do feel weird—but they are reminders that we should always feel weird here because we don’t belong here. This is a world constantly trying to react to sin and sinfulness—be it a virus or a villain—without knowing the fuller picture of God’s great redemption through Jesus. We, however, have the Lord Jesus.

And we await the time where we can be at home with him even while we live in this far country.

I'd love to hear your thoughts . . .