Why we need one, and we can all have one.
You know what families need? They need a Cloud of Witnesses (check out Hebrews 12:1). A team of supporters and encouragers and sojourners who accompany them on the journey of faith. People who will pray with them, weep with them, rejoice with them, and everything in between (St Paul is on a roll here, see Romans 12:15).
Families need other families who will “do life” with them, and who can model for each other’s kids what it looks like to follow Jesus no matter the circumstances. People who can model for each other’s kids, and for grown ups too, the joy that can only come from encountering and responding to the Lord. People who strive to encounter and respond to the Lord alongside us, together.
A faithful friend (and I venture to say, a faith-filled friend) is a sturdy shelter. And in a world that can feel pretty stormy, you need them. I need them. Our kids need them. And by God’s grace, we can have them.
Maybe you already have this Cloud of Witnesses in your life. Or maybe you don’t. Whether you have community or you crave community, the Lord is calling you to do something about it.
People who are already part of a Cloud of Witnesses, a Christ-centered community, I think the Lord is speaking to you here.
He has given you a tremendous gift in these faith-filled friendships of yours. And as is pretty much always the case with gifts from the Lord, it isn’t meant for you to keep to yourself; it is meant to be shared. YOU have the power to offer this gift to someone else.
So think and pray about this: how might the Lord be calling you to invite others into the beautiful reality of having Christ-centered friends that you already enjoy? It doesn’t have to be complicated. And it doesn’t have to mean that everyone does everything together all of the time. But welcoming the stranger is for sure something we are called to do, even if the “stranger” is simply a new family or two who don’t yet have the community that you have been gifted.
Don’t yet have a Cloud of Witnesses? I’ve been there. It can feel pretty lonely, isolating, frustrating. And I don’t think the Lord calls us to experience this as a sort of permanent reality. Even Jesus had and enjoyed strong, faith-filled friendships. They matter.
In fact, I know that the Lord commands us to ask HIM for what we need, and live in confident hope that He will provide what we need most. That include Christ-centered community.
So pray for these friendships. And even as you pray, actively seek out groups that might be offered through your local parish or diocese. Or… (gulp) start one of your own.
Family Small Groups: Less complicated than you might think
Anyone can start or grow a Family Small Group. It just takes some trust, some patience, and some good old fashioned hospitality.
Family Small Groups are just small groups of families (fancy that) who gather from time to time for some prayer (the highest expression of what we truly believe, and an actual encounter with the God Whom we profess) and fellowship.
Meet once a month if that works. Or twice a month. Or weekly, if you’re feeling wild and adventurous and everyone is up for it (though admittedly, this one does seem like a tall ask).
- Pray and ask the Lord who to invite to be part of your family small group.
If you’re already part of a “Cloud of Witnesses”, ask Him to help you know who else might benefit from being invited. Remember, being insular and comfortable isn’t part of any plan or command that Jesus EVER laid out. You are called to be inviting, to offer the gift of your friendship to others.
If you’re just starting a family small group from scratch, this might feel a little strange. Think about enlisting someone from your parish staff to help you identify other families who might be interested, even if you don’t know them well yet. Think about other families that you see at Mass and other parish events. And ask the Holy Spirit for the boldness and courage to make the ask.
2. Invite those people. Some might say yes, others might say no. That’s ok. Just be sure that it’s not *just* your current best friends. The idea here is to include others. Family small groups seem to work well when they have 4-6 families, but go for what YOU feel called to do. A larger group could likely be split into 2, and still gather regularly as a larger group for prayer and fun.
Also remember that you’re inviting them to something awesome- have confidence in that! Food, faith, friends… this is a good thing you are offering! So don’t be afraid. Even if people can’t commit, I’m sure they’ll appreciate that you invited them. And who knows- maybe it’ll even make them more aware of their own need for Christ-centered friendships.
3. Choose when and where you’ll meet and then schedule it. Meet at a park or a home or somewhere else. This doesn’t matter as much as making it happen. Don’t let tiny homes or worry about mess hold you back.
4. Meet. Do it. Find your groove. Don’t worry if it isn’t “perfect.” You aren’t hosting a fancy party, there’s no set agenda and formal process here. Find what works for your group. Here’s what a typical monthly gathering of my own family small group looks like.
- Open with a simple prayer to welcome the Lord into whatever is about to happen.
- Play some games, or go for a hike, or have a bonfire, or go through one of our series together, or have a talent show, or make bagged lunches for the hungry, or bake cookies together, or whatever.
- Take turns having someone pick what you’ll do, if that’s what works best for your group. Or having a standing event or study that you’ll do each time for a while. Ablaze offers series meant for families and family small groups to journey through together, with lots of ideas about what to do when you gather. I
- Talk to people. Share details of your life with them, and listen as they share details of their own. Let your kids see you building friendships with other Catholics, even if you aren’t always talking about Catholic things explicitly.
- ALWAYS have food. Have everyone bring their own food, or do potluck, or order food. Eat snacks, or a meal, or dessert. Whatever you want! BUT… always have food.
- Close in prayer together, bearing your hearts to the Lord who loves us. You can use any different kind of prayer, as long as it allows for people to share their intentions and walk with each other to Jesus. You could also do this first, before fun and food, and then close with a simpler prayer, if that works better for you.
Don’t be sad if this starts out feeling a little bit more shallow than you’d like it to be. Pray and trust in the Lord, that He will gradually draw each of you, and all of you, closer to Himself. He is the One who does the hard work of softening and opening hearts, here. We just provide a context in which He can do that.
See? Easy. Simple. Flexible. It might take some trial and error, and that’s ok. Remember: families are messy sometimes, and so is our planning. It’s all ok.
You can even “gather” virtually, if you happen to be living in a time of a worldwide pandemic or something else crazy like that.
One more thing
St Peter tells us to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). And we want you to be prepared. We want you to be able to succinctly and simply tell the story of what God has done for you, to share your faith in an authentic and personal way with your Family Small Group. To that end, we’ve created a simple series for you called Tell Your Story.
In it, you’ll find short, practical videos all about why and how to tell the story of what God has done for you in a way that invites others to come closer to Him too. And a journal to help you reflect and prepare. Consider using it to prepare for your role in a Family Small Group, or even as something that your group journeys through together.
If you’d like more info about getting a family small group started, or would like to talk about helping your parish establish family small groups more widely, we’ve love to help you! You can contact us HERE.