Redemption Parker is closing in on its first anniversary. It's been a joyous year and we are grateful to the Lord for it. Since our very first gatherings, before we even started meeting publicly, we endeavored to be a church that prioritizes community. The hope of our elders and core planting families has always been that every church attendee would be plugged-into a Gospel Community.
Gospel Communities are groups of 4-8 families that gather every other week. We believe they are the best way to be devoted to Jesus, one another, and our neighbors and city. One of our goals is that they would be highly reproducible--we want everyone to feel like they could host a Gospel Community in their home too. We would love to see every Gospel Community participant eventually host their own GC at some point, thereby multiplying the community within one another's homes. This is one important way we strive to reach our neighbors and community for Christ.
It's not overstating it to say that our GCs are a significant source of life in our church. They are the best place for growth in the understanding of scripture, to get marriage help, to receive care during a sickness or crises, to use one's gifts, to be encouraged. They are simple and yet deeply life-giving. Because we desire for them to be reproducible, the ingredients are pretty simple.
- Our GC (Oshman's) meets at our house every first and third Monday of the month from 6pm to 8pm.
- A few days prior I send out a group text announcing a food theme and everyone responds by saying what they'll contribute. In this way, no one is overburdened with too much meal prep and we all enjoy the potluck.
- We chat and catch up with another as everyone arrives at 6pm. My husband gathers everyone to pray for the meal and we each grab a plate.
- People sit at the dining room table, on the couch, on the floor, or outside as they eat their meal and converse with one another.
- Just before 7pm we all gather in the living room. We are blessed to have our worship leader attend our group, so he leads us in two songs (before he was a part of our church, we worshiped along with a couple youtube videos--cheesy, I know, but it was still nice to sing together!). Singing isn't necessary and others GCs don't do it, but we do.
- We then have one attendee share their story. They share whatever they'd like us to know about how they grew up and how they came to know Jesus. This is helpful for a place like Colorado, where most people are transplants. Sometimes we ask a miscellaneous question of everyone such as, "Where did you meet your spouse?" I love this time of hearing people's stories.
- Next we all share a prayer need or two. We try to encourage everyone to share something personal--a struggle they're having or the name and story of someone with whom they want to share Christ. In other words, we steer away from prayer requests for distant cousins and distant issues and hope to make this time more intimate. Someone records the prayer needs and ideally shares them with those who couldn't make it that night.
- We then take time to pray for one another. This is informal and we simply delegate one person to start the prayer and one person to end it and whoever wants to may chime in. It's a sweet time and we don't rush it.
- Next, we open the Bible together. This is perhaps the key ingredient in making GCs replicable: there is no teacher. We read a chapter (or less) of scripture out loud together. Right now we're going through the gospel of Mark. After reading it out loud we ask for two volunteers to repeat the story from memory--not every single detail and not perfectly--just share what they remember from what we read out loud. This simple practice helps all of us read with greater intentionality and then we retain the stories better as we hear each other rehearse them.
- After reading the story we ask and answer three questions: What does this passage tell us about God? What does this passage tell us about ourselves? What would it look like if I applied this passage to my life?
- Answering the questions together has proven to be very rich. It gives us a chance to wrestle with difficult passages. We hear each other speak truth--we rehearse the gospel to one another. We all glean wisdom from each other and see God's Word in ways we might not have on our own. It's non-threatening and everyone easily engages. Also, because there is no teacher, no one is burdened by preparation. We even encourage one another not to use study Bibles, but to rather sit with the raw text and ask God to help us understand. Any difficulties are researched between meetings and we follow up with one another about them next time.
- Finally, at about 7:50 we close in prayer, head to the kitchen, and serve up dessert!
A Few Things Worth Noting:
- During the whole evening, there is absolutely some measure of chaos constantly happening in the background. There are always a few toddlers, a handful of elementary-aged kids, and a few teens. We encourage parents to have all the kids sit with us and participate with us, if they can. We welcome the little ones to play with toys right at our feet or they can run along to play in the basement if being somewhat still and quiet isn't doable for them. Our dogs are always roaming around too. The setting is real-life. It is not a formal classroom.
- The setting isn't fancy. Last night I did not vacuum before everyone arrived and the "snow" from my Christmas decorations was everywhere. I had had a very full day, including exercise, and didn't have time to shower before everyone arrived. Several people arrived in hats, citing the same reason. Again, it's real life and that's the point.
- We meet every other week because we encourage everyone to be in their neighborhoods and inviting their neighbors over to their own homes during the weeks off.
- The GC setting is warm and inviting and at times, people do invite their neighbors and non-believing friends to join in. Someone that wouldn't want to go to church might enjoy GC.
- After several months together the relationships run pretty deep--deeper than the average suburban friendship for sure, and deeper than what you get from only greeting one another on Sunday mornings.
- Regular attendance at a GC has paid huge dividends to many people in our church--they have been the means by which God has provided counseling for troubled marriages, encouragement for new parents, meals for people in the hospital, a safe space to work through grief. Additionally, some GCs have branched out and attendees have helped one another throw block parties so they can get to know their neighbors. Some GCs have replicated already.
After every Gospel Community, as my husband and I are cleaning up (not too much because I use paper plates!), we always, always, always end up saying, "Wow. That was so great. What a sweet evening." Week night gatherings can be tough in the midst of over-scheduled suburban America. And at times we feel unready for a crowd to invade our home. But I promise, every single time, we are immensely blessed and go to bed feeling very cared for. Our GC attendees are now some of our dearest friends.
Honestly, anyone with some paper products, some space, a Bible, a willingness to pray, and a willingness to ask and answer some questions can do it. Just last night the gal who shared at our group said, "We've never really had community...until...this." Given the impact a small group like this can have on the entirety of one's life, I'm not sure there's anything more important.