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Posts Tagged ‘community’

by Clint Smith

Richmond’s First Baptist Church is known throughout Central Virginia for its beautiful, reverent and moving Sunday morning worship services. Every week, hundreds flock into the sanctuary at Monument and Arthur Ashe Boulevard to sing, pray, learn and grow. Though God is present everywhere and at all times, the worship service is a place where God seems especially near and where our hearts are increasingly attuned to his movement. There is more to the church experience, however. While the service allows us to grow deeper in our faith, it is not an ideal environment for us to grow together. Relationships require cultivation, achieved only through authentic connection. This is why small groups are such an important part of the Christian life.

callout for small groups post“As much as I love gathering with the whole of the local church for corporate worship, there is something powerfully unique about an intimate gathering around a living room, a small classroom or a dining room table,” says Ed Stetzer, author of Transformational Groups. “It forces us to think differently than when we are in a big room for worship. The theology taught in our pulpits begins to be fleshed out in conversation and action.” ¹

A small group is just what it sounds like: an intimate, intentional gathering of people who meet regularly for a common purpose. While this purpose is often to study the Bible or to discuss a book, it can be any activity that builds community. Small groups can serve lunch at the local middle school, hike the James River Trail System on Sunday afternoons or ride motorcycles on scenic byways. In the course of these activities, friendships inevitably develop around shared experience and interests, leading to deeper connections with one another and with the church as a whole.

The individual’s growth within a small group is often significant. “The concept allows for real honesty with your thoughts and comments,” remarks Ann Hall, a member of a recent Lenten small group study of The Good and Beautiful God (James Bryan Smith, 2009). “We didn’t judge one another as we really had an opportunity to see one’s heart and spirit.” Another member of that group, Mignon Tucker, commented, “Inclusion of individuals at different stages in the Christian journey helped me to re-examine some long held beliefs and ponder new ones. I looked forward to every week and felt motivated to prepare.”

small groups montage

How small is too small? What is too big? “The ideal size is between 6 and 15,” writes Andrew Mason, Executive Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Emmanuel, a multi-site church in Minneapolis. “Groups that start out with two to five people in attendance run the risk of dying out quickly with no one showing up by the third or fourth meeting. Too many and you will inevitably have a handful of people that don’t feel as connected as others do in the group. New guests will take longer to get assimilated and will potentially get lost.”²

Would you like to start a small group? It’s easy. Pick a reason to meet (find a book to read, choose an activity), invite people to join you (call or text your friends, post a flyer at the church) and get together (find a spot and a time). It’s really that simple!

Maybe you’d prefer to join a group that’s already active? Our church has dozens. Many of them meet on Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. You’ve probably been calling them “Sunday School”, but that’s just a small group with another name. There are also the new “3-D” (Discipleship, Dinner, Dialogue) small groups meeting in the church and in homes. Other groups practice T’ai Chi, make sleeping bags for the homeless and even buff police badges.

Where will you plug in?


¹ https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/march/4-reasons-small-groups-are-vital-to-your-churchs-health

² http://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-ideal-small-group-size/

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Proud to Be

Story by Steve Blanchard. Photos provided by Steve Blanchard and Ann Carter.

As I sat in the DiscipleNow Sunday school program a couple of weeks ago, I realized once again just how proud I am to be part of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I looked around at the youth, their parents, youth leaders, and others and I saw in their faces something that I hope is in every church – joy.
It reminded me of how great this church is and what a privilege it is to be a part of it. Now, I am not speaking as a staff member; this is not an attempt to pull in new members or secure a raise for myself. This is simply an expression of the way I feel in my heart.

Proud to BeIt just so happens that the day all this joy came bubbling up was Valentine’s Day as well. I was struck again that this church is a place of love. I am not naïve; I realize that, like any church, we are not perfect, but day in and day out I am confirmed in my belief that this church is the right place to be. I see God’s presence flowing through it in so many ways – in its members, its staff, its worship, its compassion, and so many other ways.

rolandVisitors here, in most cases, tell us that we are a warm and friendly church. Our staff sticks around for long periods of time because we feel supported and cared for. I have had other ministers tell me they wish they could work here. Again, I know we have our flaws but I truly believe we are headed in the right direction.

I thank God for a church that cares, loves, worships, and lives for God and others. I also thank you, Richmond’s First Baptist Church, for being what a church is meant to be, a place of community. My prayer is that we never stop striving for God’s perfect will, that we never cease finding new ways of being Jesus’ idea of the Body of Christ, and that we continue loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Proud to Be

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By Katie Smith. Photos by Paul Bickford and Win Grant.

“First Connection” is the jazzy new moniker for the revamped membership process at First Baptist Church. My husband and I took our time joining the church—around two years. By the time we decided to take the leap, we luckily got to be in one of the first groups to go through First Connection.

callout-BLOG-luncheonIn some ways, we were expecting to need an extra cup of coffee to make it through a church history lesson mixed in with membership requirements. However, our real experience was delightfully different. First Connection is a four-part process, plus attendance at one membership luncheon (offered three times a year). All sessions are offered during the Sunday school hour and after the 11 a.m. service, conveniently.

(1) On the first and fifth Sundays of the month, prospective members can attend an “In-House Coffee” to get to know others who are also new to the church, in a casual setting, in the Adams Room. In this way, a sense of community begins.

(2) On the second Sunday of the month, prospective members have the chance to mingle with the ministers. (In our case, we skipped the mingling, and found the opportunity to corner two ministers and ask them some of the tough questions on our minds about being Baptists. The ministers handled it very gracefully.)

firstconnection13) The third Sunday was arguably my favorite — The “Tour de First Baptist.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine our church had so many floors, so many nooks and crannies, and so much SPACE. We toured everything from the choir room to the middle school hangout to the beautiful chapel used by our deaf congregants, and I was astounded.

(4) On the fourth Sunday, prospective members are encouraged to “Jump into the Pool” by listening to an overview of FBC’s myriad Sunday Bible study offerings. Due to the size of the church, these groups are typically arranged around age, giving people a sense of belonging in a large congregation.

firstconnection2Finally, the luncheon. Baptists love a good luncheon, and I can confirm the food was excellent. More importantly, the speakers were quite impactful. Surrounded by portraits of First Baptist pastors from the church’s rich history, we were welcomed by Sharon Brittle, learned about the history and mission of the church from Steve Booth and Lynn Turner, and heard a bit about the membership process from Louis and Linda Watts, and Hanna Zhu. These speakers did not use note cards – they spoke from their hearts. They believe in FBC, and they made us feel welcomed again into a warm and loving community.

firstconnection3The decision to join a church seems monumental to me. There are so many churches to choose from in Richmond, so many programs and offerings, so much doctrine. Therefore, the process of becoming a member of any church must be informative; more importantly, though, it must connect the visitor to the spirit of the church. When the spirit is engaged, the visitor can transition into a committed congregant, a caring volunteer, and a loving member of a community. “First Connection” touches on both – the objective aspects of our church, and the spiritual ties that bind us together and welcome others in.

The spirit of First Baptist Church is clear. FBC is essentially a diverse group of individuals who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins, and rose again, giving us the hope of eternal life. In First Connection, visitors come to understand this essential truth through the experience of community, conversation, hospitality, and teaching.

See related story: A grand tour returns to Monument and Boulevard.

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Harambee!

By Lynn Turner.

What does it mean to be “community and family” in the church? What does it mean to be “one body and one spirit” in the church? As Minister of Christian Community, I have found myself asking these questions over the past couple of months. I have been searching scripture that might lead us and provide some answers. There are many passages that speak to this, but the one I keep coming back to is Romans 15:5-7:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

First, I note that this is a prayer. Paul asks God to give a “spirit of unity.” Often I think we assume that we have some control over whether we come together in unity, but the truth is unity is not a program, plan or project. Unity cannot be coerced or forced. Unity is a gift that comes down from our Father in heaven. So we must pray for God to grant it to us.

Do you see the word “unity” in “community”? Community is defined by Webster as a “unified body of individuals.” Somehow, I don’t think that we can have community until we have the spirit of unity that Paul prays for. The phrase “spirit of unity” translates a Greek word that means to “be of the same mind” or to be “like-minded.” The New Living Translation calls it “complete harmony.” I like that, because harmony is what results from many different people singing different parts, yet in proper relationship with each other so that a pleasing sound is produced. Every choir contains different parts. At any given moment, six different people might be singing six different notes. Yet every note has a precise relationship to every other note, so that the total sound produced is exactly what the composer intended. The result is beautiful harmony.

It is easy in the church to have many people pulling in many directions. That’s why the end of verse 5, “as you follow Jesus Christ,” is so crucial. If the source of unity is God, the focus of unity is Jesus Christ. As we follow Him, the church moves forward in perfect harmony. When Jesus is at the center of the church, we’ll all be pulling together in the same direction as we follow Him.

We pray for unity “so that with one heart and one mouth we might glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we are to glorify God, we must do it together. It’s not as if you can glorify God your way, and I can glorify God my way, and each of us can glorify God individually and forget about everyone else. We need each other if we are going to truly glorify God by being “one heart and mouth” for the Lord.

And finally this passage concludes with these words from verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” I recently officiated at a wedding in which the bride and groom chose this scripture as the focus of the homily. It is a powerful word for a husband and wife, and it is a powerful word for the bride of Christ – the church. The Greek word translated “accept” is a long word that is very picturesque. It means to see another person and to open your arms to take that person to yourself. It implies taking someone by the hand and walking together as companions. We are to accept each other as Christ accepted us. How did He accept us? He accepted us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). He took us when we were hopeless and gave us hope. He loved us in spite of our sin and welcomed us when we did not deserve to be welcomed. This is a high standard, so high that we will never meet it in our own power. Only Christ Himself can give us strength to accept others this way.

Which brings me to my final thought: We can only be one with each other as we are individually one with God. When I am connected to God personally, keeping my focus on who God has created me to be, I then become clearer on what God has called me to do as a follower of Christ through the church. When my heart is in tune with God, I will be in tune with others who are seeking the same thing.

I am committed to the call of Christ in the work of the church. I am committed to my call of Christ in the work of THIS church. I am excited about the possibilities that God has in store for us as a congregation as we focus on Christ, so that, “With one heart and one mouth [we] … glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May it be so with us. Harambee!

Lynn Turner (Turner@FBCRichmond.org) is the Senior Associate Pastor and coordinates the Ministry of Christian Community for Richmond’s First Baptist Church. She has been a part of the FBC staff since 1988. Lynn has a B.S. in education from Francis Marion University in South Carolina, an M.S. in Counseling from the University of Tennessee, and a Master of Arts in Religious Education from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. Prior to coming to Richmond, she taught school, served as a guidance counselor in South Carolina and Texas, and was on staff at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. She contributed to the book, Youth Ministry from the Ground Up, by Ken Dibble.

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