Right after Heidi and I got married, we moved into a forty-unit apartment building. We wanted to start a small group to reach out to the people who lived there who did not have a relationship with God, but we had no idea how to start one. So I asked Glen, a minister at the church we attended, how we should proceed.
“I don’t think you should do a group yet,” he said. “Build some friendships with the people first, pray for the people there, and then ask some of those friends to a small group when the time seems right.”
“But how will we know when the time is right?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Just pray. The Holy Spirit will let you know,” he said.
That wasn’t exactly the answer I was looking for. My pragmatic nature wanted a specific date and time and a 10-point list of how to’s. But we did what Glen suggested – making friends, praying, looking for the Spirit to move. We found out where people liked to hang out, and hung out with them: at the swimming pool, at one another’s apartments, in the front lobby. We looked for opportunities to build friendships as we rode the elevator, did laundry, and helped people who were moving in. We went to various parties and game nights at others’ apartments. We drank our diet cokes while they drank their beers and partook in a variety of other mood-enhancing substances – and we found we got better at the games as the night progressed! We asked them about themselves, listened to them, loved them, and did not judge them. But we lived as Christians before them.
A year and a half later we were still befriending, praying, and watching. I thought Glen was crazy. We wondered if the Holy Spirit would ever “let us know.” Then one evening Sherry, the apartment building manager, stopped me. She told me that Sigma, who lived in the building with her boyfriend, Vic, had been approached by a member of a cult and invited to attend a Bible study with them. Sherry asked me to talk to Sigma about this cult.
Sigma and about six other people from our building were sitting around a table by the swimming pool. I told Sigma what I knew and answered her questions. In the midst of our conversation, a longhaired guy who wore black AC-DC T-shirts and sometimes smelled like marijuana said, “Why don’t we just start our own Bible study here?”
Someone else chimed in, “Yeah, we can meet at my apartment, and I’ll make snacks.” Someone else said, “or we could meet at different people’s apartments each week. We could invite other people from the building too!”
Then Sherry looked at me and said, “This sounds great, but we need someone who knows about the Bible to lead this … Mike, would you lead it?”
I don’t know. The I’m still waiting for the Holy Spirit to let me know … The thought only lasted a second.
I said yes and then sat back in my chair and let them plan the whole thing. A week later we started a study on the basics of Christianity. First Vic came to Christ. I baptized him in the apartment building’s swimming pool early one Sunday morning, waking up half the building when Vic let out a whoop as he entered the cold water. Sigma gave her life to Christ later on. Eventually everyone in that group turned their lives over to Jesus as Savior and Lord, some after we had moved away from the building.
Never forget that “your” small group is God’s endeavor, for which we as leaders have the privilege of being His ambassadors. Nothing of real significance is ever accomplished in a small group apart from God’s leading and power. If we will allow Him to work and trust in His timing, He will surprise us every time!