The greatest small group night ever

ob_small-group1I’ve done small groups in one form or another most of the last 15 years. I’ve been in high school, college, and adult small groups. I’ve lead middle school, high school, college, and adult small groups. I’ve always wanted a small group that gelled and did awesome things… and I could never make it happen as a leader. Just when I had nearly given up on small groups, along came Harbor and my stupid insane idea to say “yes” to hosting this group after visiting a church one time.

It’s been about 8 months and I can’t imagine a better community group to be a part of. I’m growing. We’re growing. And I think we’re making an impact on the people around us. Moreover, I can’t think of a better church to be a part of in this season of my life. That may sound like hype… but you need to understand what happened tonight to see why I dig Harbor so much.

Last week we decided that it would be fun to meet at Ocean Beach for a bonfire. For those who read this outside of San Diego all you need to know if that OB is kind of a leftover surfer area full of artists, hippies, beach bums, and those who can afford to live down there who probably secretly wish they were one too. The beach has these fire pits that are open to the public, just bring wood and claim one and you’re good to go.

ob_small-group2So our group met at 6:30. In typical form everyone brought something. Wood, hotdogs, a cooler full of water, etc. We got our fire going and started to enjoy an awesome sunset laughing and catching up. Then Keith showed up. Keith is a homeless guy who asked if he could sit by the fire. Soon enough another person from our group struck up a conversation like he’d known Keith since grade school. Hotdogs eaten, water drunk, more sunset enjoyed. Pretty soon Keith asked us why we were hanging out at the beach. He didn’t really wince too much when we told him we were a small group from a church. “So, what do you guys talk about?” That’s when Richard pretty much told Keith the entire sermon from the day before. He read all of the Scriptures and then retold him all of the illustrations and all of us agreed… we were pretty much hypocrites and we were construction zones… we all settled on Stephen’s description of “holy mess.” Yeah, that pretty much explains me too.

Just when we were all settled into a nice quiet moment another person shows up. This sort of thing happens in OB all the time. (This kind of thing happens to our community group all the time as well.) 10 people having a good time on the beach naturally draws others looking for a good time. So a guy walks up with a couple of his friends. “Hey, would you guys mind if I practiced my fire twirling?” Um… no!

So here we are. A hodgepodge group, a holy mess, huddled around a fire enjoying s’mores, the perfect sunset, waves traveling thousands of miles across the open ocean and crashing on the shore 50 feet in front of us, and a guy with a boom box twirling fire. “This is the best night ever,” Amy says. She’s right. We all exchange high fives. He does his performance while we all look on. His friends are not sitting with us but are cheering him on. After a couple of routines our entertainer comes over to us and says, “You are in for a treat… a lot more people are coming.

ob_small-group3Within 15 minutes ten more fire twirlers show up. Each of them has a few of their friends. 20 or so of us huddle around the fire while people with flaming sticks, fireballs, and numbchucks wait their turn to show off their skills. More hotdogs eaten by anyone hungry. More s’mores by those who needed a sugar fix. And our hodgepodge small group, the holy mess, is completely surrounded by awesomeness. We’re all grinning ear to ear.

Fire twirlers, hippies, girlfriends, and us. I post a couple of pictures and tweets onto Twitter… and my co-worker Mandy and her husband who live in OB come walking over. How could they resist, right? That’s when it hits me: This is the best small group night ever in the history of human existence!

You can’t put small group mojo in a bottle. You can’t buy community at a conference. All of the training in the world couldn’t put this magic in a bottle and sell it. We’ve got the real deal in our community group and all we can do is enjoy it.

As Kristen and I pulled out of the parking lot we roared with laughter. We knew full well that in most ministry contexts, including the ones we’ve served in, tonight would be viewed as an utter and complete failure. “What do you mean you had a bonfire? What do you mean you just talked to a homeless man all night? What do you mean you watched people twirl fire? I heard there were people their smoking drugs, is that true?” I’m glad to be a part of a church looks at tonight and screams SUCCESS instead of hides in shame, calling an elder meeting to discuss how to break those people up.

As I drove home it hit me. The magic of our small group isn’t about an agenda. Don’t get me wrong, our leaders try to keep us moving forward. It’s never been about pounding out curriculum. It’s not about the hottest small group resource or DVD series. All of those things are great and I’m happy to have them. But when a small group hits the stratophere like ours has lately… all of those things just seem irrelevant. We get together. Not as a holy huddle but as a holy mess. We invite others in. It’s infectious. We need each other and we all secretly live for Monday nights. For me, this group is a magnet. Who wouldn’t want to be in a group that dyes Easter eggs one week and hosts Burning Man the next?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

16 comments

  1. I just want you to know that this story made me smile and reminded me of the wonderful God we serve. I wish I could be a part of a group like that.

  2. Very cool Adam! More and more as I “mature” in my faith, I’m finding that this is really what “church” is (or should be?) all about…authentic community, how sweet it is when you find it! I’ve had some awesome times around a campfire myself lately (though not nearly as colorful as your experience!) but cool none the less! Anyway, I’m glad you’ve found your group “mojo”, I’ll pray that you can sustain it! I think that sometimes that can be the really hard part…but it seems like you’ve got a heck of a strong foundation to build from! Really loved this post, it was super encouraging!

  3. Joel- I think that’s just it. When we say “yes” to allowing God to take us where He wants our group to go instead of hiding behind a well-planned agenda… good stuff happens. Literally, the fire came!

    Marty- if you’re ever in SD on a Monday night, we’d love to have you drop in.

    Mandy- Ha! Thanks for taking the hint! “Get over here!” 🙂

    Kevin- there’s just something about fire, isn’t there?

  4. huzzah! you have been converted to OB!! I’m so proud of you guys! You still owe me the time to give you a tour of the greatest stuff down there!

  5. Hah! That was the raddest small group I think I’ve ever been to. I’m still waiting for try-outs. Next week I’ll have Mandy give you my christian resume and my cover letter aka my testimony… For the talent portion I’m going to juggle swords while surfing.

  6. I think that was totally awesome. I would really like to know why “greenvalley” doesn’t believe why God was not there. I very first thought was what a great way to plant a seed, and show God’s love (OK, maybe my first thought was ‘Only Adam’). To many people would have said no, to those people, “We are doing a Bible study”. How would that be letting God lead and take you where He wants you to go? When I come out to California I expect to be entertained by whatever the Lord brings my way. 🙂

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