How Small Groups Exclude People in Your Church

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I never thought about it really.

For years I attended small groups and Bible study groups that appealed to my interests, filled my needs, and helped me grow spiritually. And I never thought about the people in my congregation who didn’t have the same choices. I never considered that some adults

  • can’t read well
  • can’t sit still for 45 minutes
  • can’t participate easily in conversations
  • can’t speak English well
  • have limited ability to understand complex truths
  • can’t hear well
  • have mobility issues that require an accessible location

. . . and so on

For these adults the small group program in a church seems as unattainable and unwelcoming as the big roller coaster rides in an amusement park do to a small child. These adults don’t “measure up,” so they stay away.

Another confession. Not only did I not think about these people when it came to small groups—even after spending most of my adult life in the curriculum development field—but I also failed to realize how damaging their absence is to the one community of God’s people. If we are truly called to be one body, then every member of that body is important. Each of us and all of us should learn from each other and share our gifts with one another in the small group program. It’s the church’s responsibility to make sure that people of ALL abilities have opportunities to grow spiritually.

My wake-up call was the Together curriculum. When I first became part of the Together team, I didn’t fully get it. Or maybe I didn’t quite believe it was possible! Really? Adults of all abilities in one room—and it works? But as we talked through the full meaning of universal design and as I saw these concepts play out in Bible study sessions—full of music, video, movement, and options—I became a believer. Not only a believer, but an advocate. Not only an advocate, but a cheerleader!

Now I can’t wait to be part of an actual Together small group in my church this fall—a group that includes all kinds of people: people who have bipolar disorder, people who have intellectual disabilities, people who are geniuses, people with autism disorders, people with ADHD. People who love to read and people who can’t read. People who know the Bible well and people who are just discovering God’s story. People who use wheelchairs and people who are marathon runners. I am eager to be part of a small group that clearly reflects what God’s kingdom is meant to be.

So stay tuned. I’m expecting great things from the Together group at my church in Grand Rapids. I’m looking forward to weeks of growing with and learning from adults I haven’t often interacted with in the past.

Curious how this might apply to you? Check out the Together website for yourself at togethersmallgroups.org. And prepare to become a convert to inclusive small groups!

Posted in:
  • Faith Nurture
  • Small Groups
  • Blog
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This is great, Ruth! Can't wait to hear how it goes in your Together group this fall!

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