We live in a changing society in a changing world. Change is good but it must be channeled so that it becomes development toward a goal rather than a haphazard progression. Change is one of the chief characteristics of human life. From conception until death and even after death, our bodies are engaged in anabolism and catabolism, being built up and broken down. Our minds, ideas, outlook, and values are constantly changing and developing so that at no two points in time are we exactly the same person.
Thus it is only natural that we observe change on the church scene too. Discussion Groups are a fairly recent development in our churches and it is to this particular subject that we should address ourselves in this article. Discussion Groups can bear a variety of names but are essentially groups of people of all ages from a congregation who meet on Sunday evening after the service to discuss a preannounced topic. They meet either at church or in homes and are composed of eight to twenty people. Each group should contain a cross-section of the congregation so that there can be a real exchange of ideas and all ages can get acquainted.
Such groups were organized at First Church about five years ago and met in church for a couple of years. A specific Sunday evening was reserved each month so that people could plan their date bocks accordingly. All participants met in the auditorium where we opened with prayer, sang a few songs, and heard a brief introduction to the subject. The chairman for the evening then divided the people into four to six groups and assigned them and their leader to specific rooms in the church. After an hour of discussion, they reassembled in the auditorium to hear a brief synopsis of the subject by a reporter from each group, sing a closing song, and pray.
When Discussion Groups use homes instead of the church building, members are assigned to a group for three months; though they meet in a different home each
month and have a different leader also. Homes provide a more relaxed atmosphere which seems to promote spontaneous discussion on the part of each individual. In fact, during the past year and a half, I have never been in a group where anyone has remained silent during the discussion. A committee serves to select subjects, place bulletin announcements, appoint leaders and hosts, and keep records for the Discussion Groups.
Some of you may ask at this point, “but why do you have discussion groups?” “We already have societies, catechism classes, choir and other activities . . . why add another?” “Besides, we already have dates scheduled for most Sunday evenings.” Discussion Groups provide opportunity to discuss a Bible related topic on a Sunday evening with people from your own church. Subjects can include the evening sermon, a doctrine such as infant baptism and something of current interest like abortion. These groups do not take the place of regular societies in the church but they are a good substitute for a Sunday evening date each month. Certainly no one can dispute the fact that it is better to meet with fellow Christians around God’s Word on the Sabbath than to sit around and just “kletz.”
But it is hard to disrupt established patterns in a congregation and still more difficult to convince many people of the value of something “new.” One of the greatest obstacles to wider participation is the Sunday “date book.” Many of us are so tied up with that book that we do not have a free Sunday evening for six to nine months ahead! Some have objected to holding discussions in their homes and would rather use the church building and the format suggested in the third paragraph of this article. I’m sure that both the church and homes could be used on the same night and with the same subject without difficulty. Other people have said that they prefer that the minister lead, since he could prevent the discussion from going astray. Many of these same people feel that the
groups should reach a conclusion at the end of their discussion and that ideally these conclusions should be unified so that there is an “official” united opinion on a particular subject that has been discussed. However, though this might be ideal, the purpose of discussion is not to come to an agreement so much as it is to stimulate thought on the subject and thus provide basis for more discussion . . . only in that way will we grow and develop in our understanding of many facets of our Christian life. All too often we look for conclusions without thinking of how and why they were reached.
I hope none of us fail to participate in Discussion Groups because we do not want to discuss anything worthwhile. I hope that none of us fail to participate because we do not want to meet with certain persons of our congregation. I hope none of us fail to participate because we are afraid to express an opinion before others. I hope none of us fail to participate because we cannot spare the time. Let’s be willing to change our habit patterns and try something new and worthwhile.
Just how worthwhile are Discussion Groups? What should be our goals? What are the advantages of such a “forum”? The first objective should be to discuss the Bible and Bible related topics. A second is to meet around God’s Word with other members of your congregation and thus have an opportunity to meet the old, young, and middle aged people who share the same blessed heritage of our Protestant Reformed beliefs. Another goal should be to improve the caliber of our Sunday evening visits. Perhaps some of the discussion in our groups will carry over into our social visits. By means of our Discussion Groups, many of us can develop talents which may have lain dormant for years. You may find that you really can lead an informal discussion in your own home, or that you do enjoy meeting new people, or that you make an excellent host. One of the great benefits many of us have realized from discussion groups is the formation of new friendships within the church. This is important for all of us as well as for the congregation as a whole. Such results can inject new life into the social structure of a church and serve to unite the congregation. A great advantage that home meetings have over those in church is that the atmosphere is more relaxed, informal, and comfortable. The groups are quite unstructured, having no officers and no business to conduct, and thus can function unhindered for their primary purpose . . . discussion around God’s Word. These conditions have promoted better discussion than I have ever witnessed in a society meeting in church.
And what of the future? I hope that more of our churches will try this forum as an effective means of spiritual contact. To get started takes a bit of organization at first, but willing hands make this easy. There is work involved because topics must be chosen, leaders selected, hosts volunteered, outlines prepared and these must be duplicated and distributed. But we all have one or more of these talents and can surely help in this work. Only one other ingredient is necessary . . . that is the participation of a vast majority of the congregation. Only those who are active will benefit. Those who do not join in are the losers.