Stephanie Cocke had recently married and moved from Pennsylvania to Texas. She sought out a small group at her new church - and found a group of lifelong friends and a lifelong practice of study, prayer, and community.
I grew up in a church family. And I think when you're a child growing up in a church, you have a small group come your way just by default because you're a part of Sunday school. But then I went off to college. I wasn’t going to church actively, and I definitely didn’t have any kind of small group at all. You can’t be a lone ranger Christian and really grow. The lack of a group had a real effect on where I was with Christ.
Not too long after I finished college, two big events happened: I married and I moved across the country for the first time from Pennsylvania to Texas. We went to a vibrant church, and that church had a lot of small groups going on. That was the first time in my life that I really claimed the idea of a small group very proactively. I looked for a group and I found a group. The woman leading us was sort of a mentor to us, just slightly older.
We met once a week at our friend’s house. We would just meet after dinner - I think maybe we'd just have a cup of coffee or tea - and study the Bible and pray for each other. There was some variety to it. Sometimes we were using purchased materials, sometimes it was something from the church, sometimes it was something the leader came up with, sometimes we might be reading a Christian book, such as something by C.S. Lewis. I had lots of Bible studies and different versions of the Bible at home, but when it came down to it I needed that prodding of having the small group meeting once a week to really spur me on to do the lessons and study, and really share the discipleship together.
I stayed with that group for a long time. There were people my age who had recently gotten married, and we started having babies together. Those became my closest friends. I still keep in touch with them, even from afar. There’s a lifelong friendship there. Being in a small group, there's an intimacy there that is different than just seeing people in the church hall or in a larger group setting. There's a level of trust there and vulnerability that you just don't have in a different kind of a setting and that was powerful in so many ways.
Just to know these people are praying for you, there's power in that, and the prayer of other people lifted me up in a way that was so much better than me just praying for myself. I loved knowing that these other women were praying for me, and that was a safe place where I could learn to pray out loud for other people. We would take turns if the leader couldn’t teach. That was my first experience with having to figure out how to teach other people, and it was a safe setting to do that.
I’ve moved houses and children have come and gone. My husband has changed jobs, I’ve changed jobs, and I’ve lived in two parts of the world and several cities. But I’ve always found a small group. I knew that was just so important for me, for my well-being, and for that sense of closeness. It’s getting worse now to feel isolated. With the internet, you can spend hours off alone by yourself. There’s so much lonliness out there. Having that group to come back to week after week is really important.
If you're thinking about joining a group, just give it a try. Just try it out week by week. It will take a few weeks to feel comfortable, but keep coming back. The more you put in, the more you'll get out of it. God will bless the commitment that you've made, and you're going to find blessings you weren't even expecting by being a part of a group like that.
St. John the Divine is launching Life Groups as part of our Lenten study in February. Our groups will begin by studying 'The Crucified Life' by the Rev. Charlie Holt. Visit sjd.org/life-groups for more information. You can sign up now to host a life group. Life group signups are coming soon!