Cover Image 

Andy Stanley and Bill Willitz opened the book up sharing about how they got started in community groups themselves. For Andy it began at his father’s church, because he was the youth pastor and the community groups meet during his youth group times he had to start his own. From there out the rest is history. One of the very noticeable aspects of this book is the intimate, heartfelt tone of the authors. You can tell they not only care a great deal about equipping churches with a vision for small groups, but have themselves been touched and matured through them.

The first Key to building a small group culture in your church according to S&W is “People Need Community.” They upack this key in the first three chapters: A Culture Craving RelationshipIts Not All Good; and The Divine Community.

A Culture Craving Relationship 01

How do you effectively assess your surrounding culture? Take note of what they spend their time and money on, and ask yourself how does this company do it, what’s their niche? Perhaps one of the more relatable example’s they used for the intersection between community and consumerism is Starbucks. S&W start this chapter off confessing that Starbuck’s is a normal part of their day as it is for many of us. How does Starbucks fuel their empire? Well being a former Barista myself I can tell you its part community, part medical perks, and park pay-rate. But how do they present themselves to potential employees? “Creat Community: Make a difference in someone’s day,” this simple approach is what they say being apart of their team is all about. And I can tell you its true, you get to know your regulars. Barista’s are the bartenders of today that’s why many church planters are Coffee Cafe tentmakers – believe it!

S&W say, “Starbucks is using coffee to promote connection. That’s a good thing because the company knows we are a culture craving relationship.” How did we get here, how did we get to the place where our nation is starving for relationships? S&W remind us it wasn’t always like this, it used to be that a front porch was the must have rather than an entertainment THX quality movie room. We consume more, we work more in order to consume more, and at the end of the day we’re exhausted. We don’t want people, we want seclusion. Well we’ve got it in spades, but its costing us. S&W say, “Our goal is to avoid people at all cost – and cost us it does.” George Gallup says that American’s are among the most lonely people in the world. Along with our over worked lives is the location and routine’s that go along with the location. S&W pick up on the URBAN element of most people’s context. 3/4ths of people in America work in metropolitan areas, of these 3/4ths 2/3rds live in suburbs which means drive time to and from work. Our lives are fragmented, busy, and relationally-shallow.

S&W pick up on the truth that having people around you doesn’t mean having relationships. We have a crowded existence but live lonely lives…We are craving relationships, even if that craving flows out from an exhausted situation. 

Its Not All Good 02

Have you ever felt like life is missing something…that the silent moments are signs of something bigger and more ominously off…

We live life around many people, but we experience life deeply with none. It’s no wonder so many of us feel alone and isolated, experiencing what one observer has called “crowded loneliness.” But that’s not what God originally intended.” Where can you and I find God’s plan for doing life? Genesis 1-2. Even in a perfect creation it was not good for man to be alone, and while this may point to the holiness of marriage its true of our relational need in general by implication. In a very counter-intuitive turn of phrase S&W tell their readers here that just as we have a God-shaped hole in our lives, we as well have a people-shaped hole. I found this statement to contain uncommon depth to it, my Reformed tradition lays a lot of weight on the God-shaped hole but has in my opinion underplayed the people-shaped hole – THANKYOU ANDY AND BILL.

In a comical word creation, S&W, tell you and I that if we don’t have deep relationships then we’ve contracted “isolationitis.” An influenza that is ravaging our culture’s today. When isolationitis sets in we: 1) lose perspective; 2) fear intimacy; 3) turn to selfishness; and 4) have poor health. “Living life without meaningful connection is not good because it’s not what God intended for us. Isolation tends to bring with it devastating relational sicknesses. But its also not good because we were created for relationship. Living life alone does not accurately reflect the One whose image we bear.” God has designed us for relationship, but what are his desires for our relationships? Next chapter…

The Divine Community 03

We all have dreams – even God, say S&W. “One of God’s biggest dreams for us is authentic community – the kind of meaningful relationships that are best characterized by oneness with Him and with one another.” In John 17 we see that the Son had a similar dream for his disciples relationship with one another and with God. To answer the question, what are his desires for our relationships, S&W say we must turn to the Trinity. John 17:20-21 say S&W make it clear that Jesus prayer wasn’t for the early disciples alone but is for you and I as well. S&W draw out a little for you and I what the Trinity’s relationship was like, no surprises here and I don’t think there should be, “qualities like mutual encouragement, support, love, deference, and honor…”

This open invitation is also a born out responsibility, our community is itself a witness to the world of Jesus credibility. “Jesus is saying that the credibility of His life and message in the eyes of unbelievers is dependent upon the way we as His followers relate with one another. Somehow their belief and our behavior are connected.” As Francis Schaffer said, community is our final apologetic. Our community must be more than casual, it must be life-giving. “…God has called the church to be about: creating environments where authentic community can take place. Building relational, transforming communities where people are experiencing oneness with God and oneness with one another. Communities that are so satisfying, so unique, and so compelling that they create thirst in a watching world [who are starving for community].”

What are some of the things we need to consider for God’s dream to come to fruition? What are some strategies that could help? Next section…

After Thoughts:

Stanley and Willits hit on a very prevelant problem in these first three chapters: people need community and live lives that won’t allow them to sustain meaningful community. While there wasn’t many surprises in these first three chapters that doesn’t mean there wasn’t much valuable insight.

Some things I wished Stanley and Willits had done better was to define some of their main terms in a clear fashion, such as: authentic community; deep relationships; loneliness; etc. They pick up on the main buzzwords and social needs church practicioners fight with on a weekly basis but in my opinion leave their readers hanging for a more substantive statement on them. This could be due to the light/devo tone of the book but still I wished they had gone just a bit deeper.

What I’m walking away from these first chapters with more than anything else is their point about people having a people-shaped hole in their lives. As well as the their term “crowded-loneliness,” this is a problem that is as real and pressing on the inside of the church community as it is on the outside. This is why I’m so passionate about small groups myself, they break down the crowded-loneliness that is allowed to persist on Sunday morning service times and force us to share oneanother’s stories and burdens together…

All and all these were great opening chapters that I could easily share with a friend over coffee as a conversation piece on the importance and value of community in our lives.