We began this journey in September, I read the sign up list for small groups at church and ours was the only one that said “children welcome”. Which is totally normal for American church, I get it. But we decided from the get go that if we were going to host a community group in our home, it would have to be all of us. The logistics of a weekly sitter wasn’t even the real issue. The much more significant factor was that we saw great value in figuring out how to build community with our kids in the mix. They are after all, an integral part of our life.
After much consideration we decided last summer that we would host a Sunday evening group and meet for dinner at 5:00. We thought maybe no one would sign up for our family oriented group. We had no idea that we’d end up spending the better part of a year sharing life with these 21+ people (11 of them being children 10 and under!).
Here are a few reflections and lessons learned from our first year doing this:
- Sharing a meal together weekly is a major investment – but it is tremendously worthwhile. Everyone has to eat right? So why not figure out how to do it together?
- Simply eating together poses all sorts of opportunity to get to know people better. You gain understanding of food allergies, favorites and how people tend to eat in their own homes.
- By delegating the components of each meal, the load can be shared reasonably well with the whole group.
- NOT delegating means me cooking dinner for 20 people. Which happened more than once. But it was my poor planning and failure to ask for help. Lesson? Next time we will choose 5 or 6 favorite meals and simply rotate each week through the options. This would require much less of me (who already plans and prepares about 18 meals a week for 6 or 7 people).
- Hosting a small group does not require impeccable housecleaning skills. Sometimes the guest bath smelled terrible. Sometimes the counters weren’t cleaned off. Sometimes there was still laundry about.
- It’s more than okay not to have your house in tip top shape. It’s real and real is good. What matters far more is that your heart and attitude say “welcome” when people walk in your front door.
- If you’ve been having a spat with your hubby and aren’t on speaking terms, it might be slightly awkward to have a load of people over, discuss a book and pray together all the while offering a cold shoulder to your spouse. Dealing with your issues would have probably been better. However, this again, is just life and sharing it with others is part of the journey. No one has it together all the time and its okay for other people to see that!
- When you don’t feel well and you want to stay in bed, throwing sweats on and saying “come on in” anyway is enough. There is something intimately wonderful about inviting others into your (imperfect) life and home.
- Your children will at some point be very loud or very naughty or very naked and it will be embarrassing. This. Is. Life.
- Half way through the year I told everyone “You are like family now and it sometimes takes me 2 or 3 days to finish the dishes from us all eating on Sunday! So I really need some help in the kitchen after we eat.” Problem solved.
- Paper products are expensive and wasteful. I couldn’t see buying and using them every week. So we use real dishes. This wouldn’t work for everyone (which is totally okay, you’ve gotta do what works for you!) but we made it work.
- While kids played after dinner, we could discuss the chapter in the book we were reading together and then pray for one another. Yes, we were interrupted at times. Especially in winter it was a little hard and loud. But the kids learned over time that they needed to wait till after we prayed to ask for dessert or to come see their shows.
- It is a tremendous privilege to be able to pray for others and even more amazing to watch those prayers be answered. Every family in our group including ours came up against some tough stuff this year. Being able to share those burdens is a beautiful picture of love in action.
- And last but certainly not least – everyone could use a Roger in their life…
Don’t ask me how he got dubbed “Roger”, I’ve absolutely no idea. But Kyler, in this particular costume, is Roger. And he has entertained us many Sunday nights. Tonight’s year end final show was as unique as the rest: