Doing small group-driven ministry in the fourth largest city in the United States ain't easy.
• The people you work with live 45 minutes to nearly two hours away from the office on average. Fostering genuine relationships with them and their spouses and kids is impossible.
• The heat and high humidity is another major factor. It gets so hot here and stays so hot here for more than half the year that people don't go outside much. Holding a BBQ in your back yard or a picnic in the park to cross-pollinate relationships with lost friends and small group members is only feasible for four months out of the year, and those months are often cool and rainy or fall during Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day.
• The traffic adds one more problem for being relational. Many of my fellow small group members and lost friends live out in the burbs and none of them live in the same burb. Because Houston has no zoning, we have five huge "downtown" like areas of tall building concentrations spread out over a 35 mile radius around the real downtown Houston. When they get home from work, they're in for the night. They've battled gridlock for up to an hour on the way home and boiled in their cars because the AC just doesn't keep up with the heat pounding its way into our cars.
If you ever wondered why Houston is home to some of the largest mega churches in the United States, you don't need to wonder any longer. They are organized to bring tens of thousands of people into a building once a week and only once a week outside of peak traffic times. The cathedral/attractional model works great in this big hot and humid traffic-laden city.
Conventional small group ministry strategies don't work well in Houston. Experts say today's best connection with lost people is at our jobs because we dont' know our neighbors. While this is true, there's no way to genuinely connect with them on a personal level unless we ignore their families at home in the burbs. Therefore, neighborhood ministry becomes far more important to the inhabitants of a lonely and congested city.
It takes a lot of work to get to know your neighbors, build trust, and see them come over to your house for a small group, but it's worth the effort when you finally break through to them. In my inner city neighborhood, the homes are built so close together and have little to no off-street parking for visitors. No one seems to mind this because they do not have friends who come to visit them in their homes.
Think about that for a moment. If you make an effort to invite neighbors to your home to hang out, study the Bible, visit your small group, or help you with a project or problem you've discovered around your home, you'll be giving them something that society does not offer any longer. It's huge!
If you live in a major metropolitan area, encourage your small group members (not just the leaders!) to reach out to their neighbors with a renewed sense of purpose. It won't be easy, but boy, it pays off when people discover there are those within walking distance who would make excellent friends and know Christ!
If your small groups are doing a good job of befriending neighbors, please post a note about it as a response. Share your ideas and testify to encourage others!