Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Relational Joy of Small Groups


So far in our series on The other Half of Church, we’ve established that our brains process information from the world first through the right-brain before the left-brain has the opportunity to contribute to our thoughts and feelings. Such a concept has the potential to make a large impact on the mission and vision of a church’s small group ministry. Rather than encouraging groups to meet and discuss curriculum in the hopes that they will build relationships along the way, a right-brain oriented small group ministry opts to have their groups meet and seek fellowship with one another and explore curriculum through the context of relationships. It is from here that we will continue to unpack what such a model can look like, focusing today on when small groups make the intentional effort to practice relational joy with one another.

To experience joy is to experience what God desires for us. In Psalms 16:11, David says to the Lord “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (NRSV). Peter says that when we believe in Christ, we are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for [we] are receiving the end result of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV). Jesus even took a moment to explain that when we keep His commandments, we will remain in His love, His joy will be in us, and our joy would be made complete (John 15:10-11). In other words, when we remain in God’s presence, when we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and when we follow the commands of Jesus, we end up experiencing a joy that is so pure and powerful that nothing else can be added to it in order to make it better!

Many of us are familiar with this phenomenon if we recall the season that took place shortly after giving our lives to Christ. Commonly, a new believer throws themselves into the faith and passionately dedicates themselves to these three practices. Yet as time progresses and the fleshly driven world begins to chip away at their ability to adhere to these three practices, their “joy tank” is replenished less often. Some individuals may even experience dry seasons where one or more of the practices are set aside entirely. This causes a dilemma that many believers are experiencing (especially in a post-pandemic world): if we are not independently seeking these three practices, how can we then restore joy both inside and outside of the church? The good news is that according to brain science, small groups may be one of the very best options we have that is available to us.

When discussing how our joy is impacted by the relationships that we develop with one another, authors Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks of The Other Half of Church arrived at three important points of convergence within their studies:

1) Joy is primarily transmitted through the face (especially the eyes) and secondarily through voice.
2) Joy is relational. It is what we feel when we are with someone who is happy to be with us. Joy does not exist outside of a relationship.
3) Joy is important to God and to us.

These three points are satisfied by small groups in a marvelous way. First, the authors point out that the face is key. While in the past we’ve made note that online groups are a great stepping stone for individuals to transition into in-person groups, the ideal will always remain to be in-person groups. With an online group, genuine eye contact is lost and we don’t know who is looking at whom. As a result, we have difficulty establishing an intentional connection with a specific person in order to receive the joy-filled connection that our brains are seeking. Second, joy is not possible without relationships. With a small group, there is intent and anticipation in meeting together and we experience a celebration when individuals arrive at the group where they are expected and welcomed. For those who hope to haphazardly experience joy through chance encounters or accidental interactions with others, their joy-deprived hearts will forever remain unsatisfied. Third, the three practices noted earlier from Scripture requires genuine relationship with not only God, but also with others as we actively live out the commandments of Jesus with those whom the Lord places into our lives.

There is a joy to know and to be known within a small group. Wilder and Hendricks note that “brain science reveals that this joy sensation is crucial for emotional and relational development.” From this perspective, joy can be viewed as a catalyst that can help to generate fresh transformation in Christ. Sharing praise reports, intentionally seeking out an individual to spend time with them, and expressing gratitude to one another can all be methods that help increase joy in our lives. Let your church’s small group ministry be the vehicle that the Lord can use to help weave these precious moments into your community.