When it feels like your community is falling apart
“The group is dead,” my friend said with a finality that made my heart break. Through thick and thin, our life group had stayed together for six years, but as various families went through hard seasons, moved, or just faded into other circles, times had become lean.
How do you pour into community when you’re just trying to keep your own family afloat?
When times get hard, one of the easiest things to let go of is community, even though we probably know in our gut that it’s perhaps what we need most in a challenging season.
My friend’s words were a wake-up call, so our group leadership started talking. We were honest about what felt hard, where we were stretched thin, and what wasn’t working well. We assessed what our values and priorities were and how we could possibly meet those in ways that worked for our current realities.
Our bottom-line conclusion was this: community mattered to our lives. It was a non-negotiable. The problems weren’t to be solved by giving up this part of our lives, it was to be solved through commitment and creative solutions.
When times in a group setting, whether that’s a small group, a Bible study, or a friend group, feel lean, the option certainly exists to let the group go. Sometimes, that might be the right choice for you and your people. But I want you to know that it’s not the only choice. Community exists whether you have a group of many or a group of just you and one other (person, couple, family). If disbanding isn’t the road you guys want to take, community is still an option through commitment and creative solutions.
When you’re trying to hold things together, here are some steps I’ve seen help revive and restore community in my life…
1. Commit to one another.
Community exists as long as one person (or couple or family) commits to gather and do life with another person (or couple or family). Formalizing it in the form of small groups or Bible studies is great, but those structures are neither essential nor the way community has necessarily worked historically. If you’re feeling like your existing community is no longer flourishing, talk to another committed party and actually articulate your commitment to doing life together. That might mean you guys commit to a study or weekly meeting, or it might mean that your families commit to doing dinner together once a month. This can look however it needs to for your unique situation and those in your life. Community is a viable option in some way no matter your circumstances.
2. Prioritize consistency.
The easiest way for a group to fall apart is for its people to stop prioritizing consistency with each other. Naturally, there are times when consistently meeting with your community becomes difficult. Life happens, right? But there is a distinct difference between life happening and giving up on gathering with your people. Only you know the difference. We could assume that for others, but that wouldn’t be kind or helpful. Rather than worrying about others’ ability to prioritize consistency, we can worry about our own consistency and make every effort to show up for our community as we’re able.
There’s also opportunity here to honestly share with your community your current limitations and ability to be consistent and committed. Let’s not act like we’re “all in” if we know in our gut that’s not in the cards right now. Be honest with each other about your current capacity, freeing yourself from the guilt of having to bail again and freeing others from unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
3. Don’t fight the changes.
When your community has been around for longer than a few years, you’ll start to see things change. For us, what started as a group of mostly married twenty-somethings turned into a group of thirty-somethings, many still married, but some unfortunately not, some with kids and some, both unfortunately and by choice, not. The make-up of our group went from being mostly in the same life stage to all over the place. Before we would easily talk until 9pm or later, with only our dogs to worry about at home and work too early in the morning. But with kiddo additions came early bedtimes, postpartum struggles, and crazy toddlers during discussion. Things had changed, and we had the choice to deny it or embrace it. If we tried to keep acting like a group of twenty-somethings with few limiting responsibilities, we’d be doing each other a disservice. We’re just not those people anymore.
Fighting the changes your group experiences will only keep you stagnant and stuck, leading to resentment among those who don’t want to acknowledge the changes and discouragement among those whose lives now look different. But when your community is willing to honestly address and talk about the changes it’s experiencing, what’s still working and what isn’t anymore, you can work together to develop creative solutions to the problems while still upholding your community values and priorities.
Just as a chameleon changes to suit his surroundings and situation, so can your community. Being willing to chameleon as a group means that you take an honest look at three things:
1. What are non-negotiables for us? What are our values as a group, and what is more important than all the things that feel hard? Maybe for your group it’s eating dinner together; a shared meal holds immense significance for community. Maybe for your group it’s having time to pray together, or the rhythm of meeting weekly, or going out to have fun and unplug together, or being outside, or serving. It could be anything – but first, determine with each other what needs to be upheld as most important.
2. What is not working? What problems need to be solved for us to continue meeting together? What feels hard or like a barrier to consistency for each group member/couple/family? What is stressing out and burning out leadership? What makes someone not want to come?
Being honest in this step is so important. Dwelling on hurt when others bring up what’s not working isn’t very productive in this situation. Instead, try to focus on serving one another and prioritizing your community values. The little stuff, the details of how those values and priorities are accomplished, those can be changed. Even if they feel like a loss, try to remember what’s most important and release your preferences as an opportunity to serve your people better.
3. What is working? And how can we mitigate what isn’t? Once you’ve identified the problems and barriers to continuing community, you can begin to identify things that are working and how those might present solutions to what isn’t. This is such a great opportunity to talk to mentors or other groups that are a step ahead of yours. It’s really likely that someone in your life, church circles or church leadership have navigated the very challenges you’re facing. Ask them how they did it and consider what might work for your group’s situation.
And lest you think this is all theoretical, here’s one way this process has played out in my life. When we had this conversation recently for our group, we determined that a non-negotiable for us was the rhythm of meeting together weekly. That’s what we couldn’t give up; we had to figure out a way to make it happen that was practical for our current life stages. Some things that weren’t working were the length of our gatherings (they went too late for kiddos), childcare was a problem, the dinner planning situation wasn’t working, and leading discussion/study felt like a bit of a burden.
We determined that having dinner together was both a value for our group and something that was working for us overall, so we switched up how we rotated meals and a group member stepped up to facilitate that so the leaders didn’t have to think about it. We decided to alternate discussion and guys/girls separate sharing and prayer time to every other week, both lightening the load for discussion leaders and shortening what we were trying to accomplish in each gathering, making for an earlier bedtime for kiddos. We committed to being done by 8pm to serve and honor our families with littles, and someone took over organizing the childcare situation to take that off the leaders’ plates.
And while things aren’t perfect, and we’ll obviously have to reassess again at times, we’re gathering regularly and prioritizing community as a group. We expressed our commitment, have tried to prioritize consistency, decided to embrace the changes rather than fighting them, and were willing to chameleon what group looked like in this season because we believed in our cores that this community mattered. The group wasn’t dead; it just needed to chameleon.
If and when your group – whatever kind of community it is – finds itself in a similar spot, I encourage you to be the first to broach this conversation. Lead the way with honesty and humility, willing to say the hard things because you know your community is worth holding together.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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