At SAINT PAUL United Methodist Church of Fremont, transformation does not happen by accident. Recently having gone through a visioning and branding process, we have come to understand ourselves as a church that centers all that it does on the three core values of INSPIRATION, INCARNATION and INTERSECTION. Through these values, we aim to live intentionally. For us, INSPIRATION is embodied by our dynamic worship services where the songs touch people’s hearts and the Spirit fills and leads us to glorify God. We are intentional about teaching God’s Word and seeing people’s lives being blessed and hearts being changed. Additionally, INCARNATION is affirmed in our ministry by the absolute belief that Jesus becomes present in our midst in real and relevant ways. As such, we believe that we too need to dwell in community and be incarnate in a world that we are called to love and change. Essentially, SAINT PAUL is where Jesus’ story becomes our story, and our story engages the world for relevant transformation.
But perhaps the most significant of our values that really defines SAINT PAUL is that of INTERSECTION. We are a diverse group of people. We come from all walks of life and represent many different backgrounds, and yet, we have come to cross paths at this wonderful church. We share in real life and real faith, and we experience together the blessing of how the story of Jesus intersects with our lives for empowerment and transformation. We believe in living together in community and deeply sharing in authentic relationships of encouragement and accountability. And there is no better way to do this than in small groups that reflect the nature of the Acts 2 church where “All who believed were together and had all things in common…” (Acts 2:44)
At SAINT PAUL, our small group ministry is alive and flourishing, and it is really the lifeblood of our congregation. It is where we see intentional transformation taking place on a regular basis. Of course, this should not be news to anyone. We have probably heard from many church growth seminars about how “we need to grow small in order to grow big” or how “small groups are the answer”. Indeed, we have found that it is in small groups that people’s lives are really being touched and transformed. We utilize a house church model where there is a holistic approach to growing disciples spiritually – studying scripture together, sharing in fellowship both within and beyond the actual small group meeting, forming deep and meaningful connections through mutual caring and prayer, and reaching out to the world by committing together to mission and service projects. When all of these aspects of discipleship are practiced, growth happens.
We have found that small groups are able to do far more than simply what worship can do on Sundays. Whereas worship can often become reduced to a “spectator event”, small groups spur members to participate fully. There is an active engagement of all of the members, since the leaders have created an intentional place of both “comfort” and “challenge”. And finding the balance between these two is critical to effective and fruitful small group ministry. At SAINT PAUL, we take accountability seriously, and just as the Acts 2 Church gathered together often with “glad and sincere hearts”, we aim to do the same. Sincerity, or authenticity, is encouraged. People speak their minds, and people share their brokenness. Leaders offer support and, more importantly, a listening and receptive heart that embraces everyone’s sharing that eventually gets fed back into how the community is ultimately defined.
Speaking of leaders, we are also intentional about offering regular and ongoing training and support so that they are always equipped and never burnt out. Once a month, I meet with an amazing team of dedicated shepherds who have been called to gather and guide, love and lead the people in their respective groups. I cannot say enough how important it is to have the right leaders in place. And I thank God for each and every one of them. They are absolutely dedicated to this vision of ministry through small groups. They pray and they prepare. Their passion is simply amazing!
Currently, we are participating in a church wide study of Adam Hamilton’s book, The Way. By having every single small group go through this study during the season of Lent, we are able to build unity in our congregation and create a meaningful and relevant connection to the Sunday worship experience where we are preaching through the same book. All this is to say, that at SAINT PAUL, our goal is way beyond just gathering people into smaller groupings. Our goal is intentional transformation. Our goal is growth and consistency.
I often hear from the people of SAINT PAUL how our small group ministry has touched and changed their lives. They share with me stories of how when they were struggling with some of life’s greatest challenges, it was the support and prayers of the small group that made all of the difference. Others share with me how much they have grown in their faith and how much they have increased in their knowledge of the Bible. And still others testify to how their small group is simply their “family”. It is the place where they find belonging and acceptance. For me, every time I hear of such stories, all I can do is smile and think about the Acts 2 Church – that first century community that was so committed to Christ and committed to each other – and thank God that same spirit is alive and well at SAINT PAUL! We are “Living IT” and being transformed! Intentionally transformed! Praise God.
Some questions to consider: What are the core values of your ministry that define or are lived out in the context of community? How do you ensure that such values are at the center of your small groups? How do you train leaders to be effective agents of transformation and be consistent in holding your values accountable? And how do you create a culture where the members of the small groups are going deeper in Scripture and being more intentional about accountability?
Rev. Sun Hee Kim currently serves as the Minister of Discipleship and Leadership Development for Saint Paul UMC. Her work focuses primarily on the development of small groups and the training of its’ leaders. She also works with the young adults at Saint Paul and is actively engaged in the growing OpenCircle Alliance in our conference.”