Not Just Another Small Group

Toby had no idea the impact his new small group would have on his community.

In his own words, he describes the journey he and his wife took to belonging.

Since coming to Eastside five years ago, my wife Jennifer and I have struggled to connect with others here. We’ve served as volunteers for several years but never really connected with anyone outside of that. A hundred percent our fault as the result of erratic schedules and work and family issues; but our greatest roadblock to developing meaningful relationships with other Eastsiders was our own vision of the future. 

We’d been talking about leaving California now for a couple of years, with plans of starting a home-flipping business out of the state. Like many others, we felt that our time here was done. As a result of this plan, we were reluctant to make greater efforts at joining a small group. We’d taken too long to connect, and we felt we’d missed our chance, and we’d just have to wait until we landed somewhere else. 

We’ve prayed earnestly for some type of connection, but because we had one foot out the door, we weren’t really giving God room to work…so we thought. 

We are wired to be in community, but it’s easy to feel disconnected when every face you see is someone new. Truly experiencing community can only happen when you take a chance and join a group.

But last fall, instead of moving, circumstances changed, and we knew we’d be sticking around a bit longer. At that time, Eastside launched our Unfinished campaign. That very weekend, Jen and I were serving with Guardian Ministries, monitoring the hallways and the building’s perimeter as part of our responsibilities. All the small group tables were set up, of course, providing the opportunity for everyone at Eastside to connect with others for this campaign, especially those who weren’t already part of a small group. 

Jen and I reviewed the available groups and landed on a Wednesday night group that was to meet at the church, assuming we would meet others who also did not yet belong to a small group. So we put our names down on the sign up sheet and went about our business. 

But a little while later, as I was walking around the outside of the building, I asked God to help us meet another couple through this campaign that we could connect with and to help us commit to being part of something more meaningful. Not five minutes later, when I came back into the main hallway, I saw a sign for a small group that I hadn’t seen on my previous scans, called “Active Empty Nesters.” I read the group’s description and knew immediately that this was the group for us. I met up with Jennifer shortly thereafter, and she said she saw and felt the same thing. So we went over to the table and signed up. 

A week later, we showed up at Doug and Leslie’s home, expecting to join two or three other couples in fellowship and kick things off. But instead, other couples continued to arrive, and by the time we got started, we had ten couples filling the room! 

Initially, I was discouraged to see so many people, because experience has taught me that the more people present, the less engagement you’ll have. But God was right there with all of us, and our time together was multiplied, not diminished! Because all of us are in a similar place in our lives and relationships, everyone’s participation, contribution and openness lent itself to an almost immediate fellowship. By the end of our first meeting together, each of us had expressed how comfortable we already were and how wonderful our time together was. We all sensed that this is where we belonged, and it was clear that this was no fluke. 

We have all remained together since that first meeting, continuing to meet regularly in fellowship, study, and in prayer. But most of all, we enjoy just being around each other; listening, laughing and crying (often crying because we’re laughing). And while we continue to grow closer through each of our small group gatherings, we have already fallen victim to participating in extra-group activities that allow us to be more than just part of a group; we get to be friends too! 

We are so grateful to God for stoking the desire for Doug and Leslie to lead a group at just the right time, and for all of our new brothers, sisters, and friends who—as a result of their own complicated circumstances—walked through that same door at the same time. We see God showing up in our lives just like this to remind us we’re not on our own. 

We are wired to be in community, but it’s easy to feel disconnected when every face you see is someone new. Truly experiencing community can only happen when you know others, and when you know more than just their name and a face. It happens when we do things together, shoulder to shoulder, and have the chance to see who we are when we’re not wearing our church faces. 

So yeah, we’re part of a not-so-small group, but it’s clear that no matter where our circumstances or geographies take us, we will always be connected.

the summer is a great time to join