This upcoming Sunday is a milestone for me. It will be the 20th anniversary of the first service I ever attended at TFA Church. Back then, it was known at Thibodaux First Assembly – or even just First Assembly. It was Super Bowl Sunday in the spring of 2001. The Baltimore Ravens would soon be playing (destroying really) the New York Giants. My dad looked a bit confused when I told him I was skipping the game to head to the evening service of a church I had never been to before. But, I went anyway.
I didn’t join TFA at that time. I simply went to the Sunday evening service and afterwards headed to the home of my Nicholls State Chi Alpha campus pastor (Josh Higgins) for Sunday night prayer. It wasn’t a planned thing – kind of spontaneous. While I was waiting for the game to start I decided to hop online and do some AOL and MSN Messenger chatting. (Y’all remember that? This was in the days before text messaging was a thing.) If my recollection is correct (twenty years is a long time ago), one of the girls from Chi Alpha was chatting with me and said she wanted to go to First Assembly, but didn’t want to go alone. I was friends with the girl – probably even had a crush on her – so valiantly decided to go along.
I don’t remember anything spectacular about that night. But I remember I went back the Sunday night after that. And again after that as well. It wasn’t until later that year, probably in the fall, that I began attending on Sunday mornings. I can say I didn’t go on Sunday mornings for any girl, but for myself. Up to that point in my adult life, I was not a regular Sunday morning church goer. Of course, I was only 18 so the sample size is small. But TFA felt like “home” – at least more so than any church I had attended up to that point. Shortly after beginning to attend on Sunday mornings, I officially became a member.
It’s been twenty years, then. And it wasn’t just twenty easy years, either. Some of the best moments of my life have been at TFA. I was married there. All four of my kids were dedicated there. One has even been baptized. Some of the most successful ministry I’ve ever done or been a part of have been there. But, we’ve had some hardships, too. There have been moments were I didn’t agree with the direction the church was heading. I’ve had personal, tough disagreements with church leadership and decisions. There have been times I seriously considered resigning my membership and going elsewhere. But, in the end, TFA is my home – warts and all.
Over the course of twenty years I have met a lot of people. There are many individuals at the church who were long-time members when I first began. There are also many from that original group who have moved on for various reasons. And many, many, many folks who came only for a time and moved on quickly. Most of these people, I must admit, are simply acquaintances. I see them on Sunday mornings – no more but also no less. Others, however, I have a deep connection and friendship with. But those I consider my closest friends are the ones who I’ve been in some sort of small group ministry with – my various Sunday school classes, fellow church board members, and even some of the kids from my Wednesday night classes (mostly my own).
When you are in a small group with someone, you have the ability to get to know one another much better than that two-minute conversation on Sunday morning. And when that happens – when you build those connections with each other – something special happens. You begin to care about each other. You begin to trust one another. You begin to pray for them, not just because they went up to the alter on a Sunday morning and asked for prayer, but because you know they need prayer simply by talking to them. Seeing it in their face. Hearing the words they say. How they say them.
The best friends I have in the world came out of small groups. Not just “small group ministry” – but small groups in general. My best friends aren’t the ones I’ve seen for two-minute conversations in the church lobby for twenty years, but the ones who I’ve made time for. Who have made time for me. People who have been to my house for dinner, or who have hung out with me in a coffee shop. People who come over to the house to watch Monday night football. People who you can just sit around a fire with and talk about all the important things in life. Or, even better, people with whom you can just talk about nothing while still talking about everything.
In a few weeks at TFA we will be starting a new Life Group/Small Group ministry. The timing is probably bad with the pandemic and all, but it is so very important. As Christians – as people in general really – we need these types of ministries and these types of relationships. At 38 years old I can look back on the last twenty years and point out all the truly important people in my life that I developed great relationships with through small groups. I can’t wait to look back in another twenty years and point out even more.
Matthew 18:20: For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.