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Posts Tagged ‘Small Groups’

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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By Shawnee Hansen. Photos by Chris Hillman.

Have you ever wondered what a small group study is all about?

calloutOn Monday evenings Ralph Starling, Minister of Christian Invitation, opens his home to visitors and both new and long-time members for Bible study.

small groupRalph explains, “I believe we are here to practice hospitality everywhere: in Sunday school, the marketplace, anywhere in the community we may find ourselves. A simple way to do this is to welcome people attending our church, new members or guests, and make sure they have the opportunity to make friends and build connections. When people develop relationships, they hang around. This is energizing for a church. I like to use my home for people.”

small groupAnd people have been responding to this invitation.

Lewis and Linda Watts had been visiting First Baptist for a year and a half. “We wanted to connect and meet people and were happy to hear that a small group was forming. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and we ended up officially transferring our membership. We have made some wonderful friends and really look forward to our Monday nights together.”

Chris and Resa Hillman drive from Saluda to attend the group. As new members, it has given them the opportunity to engage with other newcomers and visitors. Resa explains: “It’s a meaningful way to start our week. Chris and I feel like part of the First Baptist family now.”

small groupIn addition to the social benefits of meeting other new members, small groups also provide a setting to study the Bible more deeply. Past small groups used the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) to examine “The Way of Forgiveness” and “The Way of Blessedness,” intensive studies which look at everyday problems and how to handle them in a Christ-like manner.

Julie Pierce, who attends with her husband, Warren, says “I really look forward to coming together in a small group and discussing the topic and studying together the biblical perspective. It’s fascinating hearing everyone’s opinions on each lesson. We have a lot more time than in a Sunday school setting for intensive study.”

Small group members include people with diverse backgrounds, representing all areas of Richmond and beyond: stay-at-home parents, students, doctors, business people, the retired, and those beginning their careers. They find the relaxed atmosphere, casual attire, and refreshments conducive to beginning new friendships.

small groupSmall groups start at various times throughout the year and usually last eight to ten weeks. The next one, “The Way of Prayer,” September 10 through November 5, will journey into the heart of prayer. Contact Ralph Starling at 804-358-5458, ext 134 to join.


Shawnee Hansen Shawnee Weitzel Hansen is founder and President of Richmond Friends of the Homeless, a non-profit which has been providing nourishing meals and services to the disadvantaged in our community for twenty six years. She enjoys bringing the inner city children she works with to First Baptist to experience the love of Christ, often for the first time. Shawnee was recently named the YWCA Woman of the Year in Human Relations and Living the Faith.

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By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Paul Bickford and Susan Brown.

The First Baptist family is a diverse group of individuals, joining together as one body of believers seeking their paths with Christ. The story of three different couples – Spencer and Caroline Budwell, Carl and Ann Evans, and Todd and Robin Ritter – highlights how this seeking also brings a deeper friendship with other believers. And sometimes even marriage.

The Budwells

The Budwells

Spencer and Caroline Budwell. Photo by Paul Bickford.

Spencer Budwell was involved with other singles in forming a new Sunday school class at First Baptist. So involved that it didn’t occur to him that through this involvement he would meet his future wife.

At the time, several of the young singles felt a growing need for a class that would provide them friendships with others who had been on their own for some time – with a goal not of meeting their life partners, but of sharing their experiences of seeking Christ.

Caroline Budwell, a lifelong Baptist, was attending another church in the area, but was looking for a deeper fellowship with others at her same stage of life. She decided to visit First Baptist, and attended the new Sunday school class where she found what she had been seeking. In the class, she and Spencer became friends, but it wasn’t until they both participated in a mission trip that their friendship began to deepen.

Through activities with the mission team and the Sunday school class the Budwells found their friendship was blossoming into a romance that later led to marriage and the arrival of their two daughters.

The Evanses

Carl and Ann Evans met through their involvement in a Sunday school class that was started by participants in the Divorce Recovery Workshop (DRW).

The Evans

Carl and Ann Evans. Photo by Susan Brown.

Carl was the first to attend FBC, learning about the DRW from an old friend at a high school reunion. “The friend encouraged me to go to First Baptist and check out Divorce Recovery,” Carl remembers. It was some time after this that Ann visited DRW through the urging of some of her friends. After attending her first meeting she knew she would come back. “I walked into the meeting feeling all alone and could see immediately that there were 150 to 200 people in there that were o.k. I knew I would be o.k. too!” remembers Ann.

Both Ann and Carl had attended other churches in the area. But as they became involved in the DRW, particularly in the small groups formed as part of the program, they found FBC was starting to feel like home.

When they joined the Sunday school class, neither had any intent or thought of meeting someone special and getting remarried. Through the closeness of the class and particularly their participation in many of the activities outside of the class, the Evanses developed a special closeness which led to marriage.

Now their “community is expanding and growing,” they explain. They volunteer with the DRW, are part of Fellowship Friends, help with Grace Fellowship, go on mission trips, and through Carl’s love of motorcycles, are part of First Riders.

The Ritters

The Ritters

Todd and Robin Ritter. Photo by Susan Brown.

Todd Ritter’s theatre job led to his moving to a new town each year for the first several years after college. When he settled in Richmond, he remembers his mom kept urging him “to go to a big church so I could meet a nice girl!”

Todd emphatically told his mom that he was not planning on going to church just to meet a girl, but did decide to visit First Baptist since it was the church nearest his home. Some months later he visited again and decided to attend one of the Sunday school classes. Todd found a friendly, close-knit group of folks seeking a relationship with Jesus. He began attending regularly.

Robin had grown up in another Richmond church, but decided to visit FBC on her sister’s recommendation. Robin visited the same Singles Sunday school class as Todd and also liked the closeness of the group.

It wasn’t long before both Todd and Robin were joining with many of their friends from the class in other activities – but still with no thoughts of pursuing any type of romantic relationship. It wasn’t until they attended a weekend retreat that they realized they had much in common and that they were starting to have deeper feelings for each other, feelings which eventually led to marriage. Todd laughs today at the thought of how his mom was right after all!

The common thread among all three couples is that they came to First Baptist to find Christian fellowship. Through their involvement in small groups, such as Sunday school classes, they found a group of friends to share with their love of Christ. As Ann Evans puts it, “it really was through the small group fellowship that I found a ‘family’ here at First Baptist.”


Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

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