In many churches, attenders pick the kind of event or gathering that is best suited to their personality and strengths. This is not necessarily a negative. It is essential to give newcomers the freedom to go where they’re comfortable in their early days with the community. But if all we ever do is spend time in environments where we repeatedly do comfortable things, our spirit adapts and our growth stagnates.
An example: I hate small groups. For 14 years, I worked with churches where small groups were an important part of our strategy. I had to force myself to be a part of every group I joined. As an introvert, I’m almost never comfortable sitting in a circle with 10 other people talking about my thoughts and feelings. If there is whining and crying involved, it takes a shock collar to keep me in place.
I love, love, love the anonymity of large group gatherings. I can sit on the back row, sing when I want to sing, listen to the sermon, and sneak out during the closing prayer without being noticed. If left up to me, this is what participation in church would look like. This would be fine if I were a skeptic exploring the Christian faith for the first time or making my way back into the faith after wandering away. But it is unacceptable for someone who grew up going to church, was baptized at twelve, and has been seriously following Jesus ever since.
If I gravitated toward my preferences week after week, I’d stop growing. It might even get boring enough that I’d eventually stop coming. I need to be a part of a small group. Not because I naturally enjoy it, but because it’s good for me. Because it is uncomfortable. Because it gives me the chance to get better at my relational skills.
I dread going to the group, but afterward I usually feel better. I’m emotionally drained, but also energized because I pushed through my comfort zone. Sort of like how I feel after I’ve worked on handstand push-ups at the gym. It’s not fun to do, but it feels great to have done it.
If I keep participating in a small group, it will get easier as I get better at it. I might even get so comfortable in the small group setting that my spirit will adapt to it so that it ceases to stimulate further growth. If so, I’ll have to mix up my spiritual training to keep improving.
What about you? How are your strengths and preferences causing your growth to stagnate?