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Wide White: Small group awkwardness

Monday, April 04, 2011

Small group awkwardness

For those who aren't familiar with church small groups, here's a brief summary: a small group is between 3 and 12 (or 30) people who get together, usually weekly, to hang out, study the Bible, pray together, etc. It's a way for people in a big church to get to know people and make the big church feel smaller. It's another way we work to apply our faith to our everyday lives.

Sounds simple, right? It is, really.

But there's this weird hyperventilating nervous breakdown that seems to happen when you're visiting a new group. You're not just getting together with the friends you see every week. You're starting to reach out and develop those friendships. You're not in a church of a few hundred people where you can just blend right in anymore. You're in the home of someone you don't know all that well yet with a bunch of people you've never met. That's not exactly something you do every day. The more I think about it, it's actually kind of weird, especially to an outsider.

We recently joined a new church. For the last 3.5 years we led a small group with our old church. The last time we were the ones looking for a new small group was almost 4 years ago.

The first group we visited when we last were looking for a small group we tried was a fail. The people weren't failures. We just didn't mix well for various reasons. We tried going back a second night but Jamie and I both knew it wasn't going to work out. The second group we found was awesome and we're still friends with the couple who led that group.

4 years later we're back to looking for a new group and we're visiting a group for the first time tonight. We have the advantage this time of having at least met the people who lead the group. They're good people.

We also know that no one in the group has kids, which could be good (we'll have to find something else to talk about!) or bad (what else do we talk about? what did we talk about before last year?).

We're excited to meet some new people and get plugged in with the church in another way, but there's an inherent awkwardness of meeting new people that I don't think I'll ever get over.

Is meeting new people in that kind of setting awkward for you, or are you in your element when you don't know a single person in the room?

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Blogger Keelie declared,

Oh I hate being in a group of people I don't know. I've always thought about myself that I can be very friendly and outgoing, but only when I know the people well. If I don't know anyone, I can become shy and withdrawn.
I also like your comment about 'what do we talk about if not kids?' I agree! Isn't it amazing that that seems to be the only subject we know anything about anymore?!:)

4/04/2011 7:36 AM  
Blogger Andrea declared,

I definitely know what you mean. Alex and I, about a year ago, left our small group that we had been in for almost 3 years. We felt the need to leave since we were the only ones without kids and since we didn't know if the Lord would ever give us them, it was just the right move.

That being said, looking for another group after being with familiar people has been an interesting transition. We are now in another one we love but it takes time to dig deep.

My yourselves right away. Be transparent and open, even if it means praying the entire way there to be more extroverted like we had to:)

And talk about your kids. It's reality. They'll come up eventually!

4/04/2011 9:02 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Andrea, we had 2 couples leave our small group over the last year due partly to them being the only ones without kids. Of course, another couple joined the group last year who didn't have kids and they're now leading the group, but I completely understand your point because as Keelie noted, parenting is a huge task and becomes a major source of conversation.

4/04/2011 9:27 AM  
Blogger Andrea declared,

Thanks Joey! We just felt the Lord prompting the change and as much as we miss everyone we are blessed in knowing that they can now more openly converse about topics that are more pertinent to their life stage! Our group started with only a few kids and by the time we left there were 12!

4/04/2011 9:37 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

Neat. I've always wondered about how these actually work. How do you keep people from being offended if they want to be part of the group but nobody wants them to be, or if someone is problematic for any reason (polarizing, creepy, angry, rude, weird, boring)? How does the church avoid hurting feelings (i.e. the small group meetings become cliquey and feelings get hurt if you're not cool enough to join)?

I'd love to hear more about why you decided to join a new church.

In Mormonism, we don't have small group meetings, and in fact, in times past study groups were officially discouraged by the church, because they tended to have one of two outcomes (1. the participants decided that the church wasn't what it claimed to be and left the church, or 2. the participants decided that the church was exactly what it claimed to be and started practicing polygamy again - which resulted in them getting kicked out of the church). I think they've backed off from the "no study groups" thing a little bit in the past 10 or 20 years, though I am still not aware of any Mormons having small group meetings...

4/04/2011 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Chet declared,

That's kind of my element actually. I love meeting new people in a setting like that. As long as I know we are all there for the same purpose I'm up for it. Nothing like getting together in a group to learn about God. I think it's great!

4/04/2011 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Joey declared,

Andrea, our group went from no kids to 8 under 3 in the last year and a half. It was a strange transition for all of us!

4/04/2011 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Joey declared,

Reuben, there's no good way to keep people from being offended but to be honest, we never really had too many issues. We did have one guy visit the group who creeped me out. He was single and older and we were a bunch of young couples, but we tried to roll with it. I did tell Jamie after the first night he visited that I didn't ever want her alone at home with him. I never say things like that so it was really weird that I had that vibe. A pastor later told me, "That's just what any red-blooded male would say." I found out he had a rather unstable history and was really a part of another group but wasn't honest and upfront about some things with me or them. I told him I didn't think he should come back until he resolved things with his other group and he never did. I was pretty relieved.

We had a few people who didn't fit in very well but nothing that you wouldn't run into in any group of 10 people. We've made some great friends and some awesome memories and it's pretty cool to have a group of people you hang out with every week. You definitely grow close to one another through it.

Each group is pretty different in how "deep" they go. In other words, some groups are pretty focused on the education part, some are pretty laid back, and others dive deep into faith accountability. There's not really a standard prototype of a group, kind of the way there isn't a cookie-cutter church.

Why I joined a new church is probably worth of its own post. I've debated writing it but haven't found the right time and don't want to offend anyone at my old church. Some of my closest friends are at my old church and while I don't think there's anything I'd say that would be offensive, I just want to be careful. The church we go to now is a church plant of our old church so it's not like we fell off the bandwagon with our old church, but just as any kid is different from their parent, our new church is pretty different from the old.

Thanks for the info on Mormonism. I'm always fascinated reading about it through you since it's not very prevalent up here.

4/04/2011 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Keith declared,

I kinda like groups where nobody knows each other. As long as you can just be honest about things, it is kinda easy to be the icebreaker. I think some of the awkwardness comes from people being intimidated or nervous about what others will think. It is easier to just be yourself and figure out quickly from the response and playback if it is something that will work out or not.

4/04/2011 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Brent and Lisa declared,

Good post, excellent question and comments. I (Brent) was in a small group at my church before Lisa and I got married 2 years ago. After the wedding, we're attending Lisa's church, but that is 35 miles away! Getting involved in a small group 35 miles away feels more daunting to me than meeting people I don't know! Lisa has a small group that's all women, so it doesn't work for me to attend that.

4/04/2011 10:16 PM  
Blogger Kara Jo declared,

Ah the dynamics of small groups. I definitely feel awkward in a group of people I don't know, and that feeling has actually increased for me over the years--oddly. In college I used to love leading small groups and happily played the social butterfly role. It felt good to focus on making others feel welcome. But, truth be told now, making small talk with people drains me beyond belief. (Though I'm an extrovert, believe it or not.) So it's tricky, because it takes time to build the relationships that make a small group successful. It's taking a chance, too. We've been part of numerous small groups over the years. Some have meant life-long (I think) friendships, while others have fizzled once the group ended.

4/04/2011 10:57 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Keith, for me and a lot of other people it's not really about opening up or not opening up. It's more about being in a group of people with whom I may wind up having nothing in common. If things don't click and it's just not working, it's a little awkward to have to turn around and tell them you aren't coming back. It's also awkward being the only two people in a group of 16 who don't know anyone else, as we were tonight.

Kara Jo, when we pulled up to the house tonight, Jamie turned to me and said, "My introvert is crying." Mine was too. But we forged ahead and slowly warmed up and had a good time. We'll be back.

4/04/2011 11:42 PM  
Blogger Michelle declared,

I for one am super glad that you and Jamie have joined our small group!

4/12/2011 8:09 AM  

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