True Friends in Christ
By David Corlett
When the consistory of Delmar Reformed Church embarked on the Natural Church Development (NCD) church health process, little did they know how transforming an exercise it would be!
The NCD evaluative process showed that we were neglecting the ministry of small groups in our life together. We had offered many small group opportunities, and while they were widely supported by our members, they never seemed to last. They were program-driven, and once the program was completed, the small groups disbanded.
Through the NCD process we realized we needed a major shift in the way we experienced community life and discipleship. We didn't want to offer another new program; we wanted to bring about a whole new way to understand what it means to be the church together. We cast a vision to establish a wide network of small groups of Delmar Reformed members and friends who gather weekly for fellowship, support, and discussion on the topic that was addressed in that week's sermon. Sermon notes and discussion questions for further study and reflection would be distributed each Sunday. The sermons and notes would also be available online for those who missed Sunday's service. Our goal was that over time, when someone would say, "I am a member of Delmar Reformed Church," it would naturally imply that they are connected to a small group.
Making it work
We were so committed to this concept that we even revamped and streamlined our church's organizational structure in order to free up time for these small groups. That meant less time in committee meetings and more time for growing together in Christ. We also knew that holidays and summer schedules are disastrous to small groups' schedules, so we divided each year into 10-week "trimesters" with breaks over those busy times of the year.
A biblical role model
The name we chose for our groups is "BEREA." In Acts 17:10-15 there is an account of the Greek city of Berea, where the Christians were open-minded and listened eagerly--but not blindly--to the teachings of Paul and Silas. The Bereans examined the Scriptures, discussed together, and decided for themselves if the message was true. But truth was not enough. They then believed with a faith that inspired them to action. Berea was a model we tried to imitate.
The impact of these small groups has been phenomenal. More than 130 people enrolled in a dozen Berea groups. People have connected in wonderful ways, becoming true friends in Christ. The groups have even engaged in collective mission activities together. A recent comment from a Berea participant best captures the way these groups have become so important to the life of our church. He commented that upon the death of his brother, he was compelled to call his Berea group together even though it was summertime and they weren't meeting regularly. "I just had to feel their prayers and support in my grief," he said.
David Corlett is senior pastor of Delmar Reformed Church in Delmar, New York.
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