The Problem with Being Anonymous

It’s quite easy, really.  Show up to church a few minutes late on Sunday, sit on the back row, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon, and leave.  You can even slip out early if you want.  Just wait until the prayer during communion.  You don’t have to speak to anyone; no one will ever know you were there.

Being anonymous in church is simple, and certainly less complicated than being known.  But it is also problematic.

I used to think that “big church” was the only community aspect of being a church member that was necessary.  Small groups just added one more item to my already-booked schedule as the discussions were surface-level and the friendships were forced.  I hoped that there was more to this particular requirement of joining some churches.  Thankfully, at City Pres, I have found that there is, but not without a price: vulnerability.

Here’s the deal: I don’t enjoy telling people that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder, that running is not just a hobby but an obsession, that I fight with my husband, that we’ve dealt with infertility, that I’m selfish, or that I don’t know how to handle my daughter when she screams.  Seriously, no one likes sharing their secrets, especially the ones that they’re afraid to even ponder in their own minds.  But the rewards of doing so are immeasurable.

At the end of the day, it is only the grace of Christ which has drawn my cold heart back to himself, but He has done so in part through City Groups.  Here are some of the main benefits I see in a small group:

-Needs are more easily heard and met within a smaller group of people.  People might not be willing (or know how) to share a need with hundreds of people, but sharing with twelve people might seem reasonable.  I have been amazed at the many ways in which my City Group has loved its own members, as well as those outside of our particular group, simply because a prayer request was mentioned in someone’s living room on a Monday night.

-Learning is better facilitated in small groups.  I teach sixteen four-year-olds, and I have learned from experience that it is nearly impossible to have every child learn to his or her maximum potential when every lesson is whole-group.  Though I’ve got a good twenty years on my students, my mind works like theirs at times.  We’re all human.  We daydream during sermons.  We become detached.  We are passive listeners.  Small groups allow people to be actively engaged and to thereby draw more from a particular passage than they might otherwise.

-Small groups foster accountability.  That word still makes me cringe at times.  Accountability means sharing when I’ve given into that same sin…again.  And though I don’t like it, I need people to ask me how I’m doing.  I need them to pose hard questions and to cry with me.  I need them to encourage me to trust Christ and to remind me that I can.  I need people to listen and I need them to share their own stories of rescue, reminding me that freedom is possible.  I need them to do those things because I am destructive when left to myself.

-Real relationships happen in small groups.  For many people (myself included), relationships formed within church walls are often artificial.  When I know that I am only going to see someone for about a two minutes on a Sunday, I always try to slap a smile on my face and put my best foot forward.  In my mind, the five-minute “meet and greet” that many churches practice is not the time for my sob story, or even for major life updates.  Exchange pleasantries, shake hands with the next person, and move on.  Real conversations and community-building happen in people’s homes, on back porches, or even over a beer at McNellie’s.  (Yep, I just said that.)  I share with the people in my small group because they are my friends and because we are doing life together- not because anyone is forcing me to do so.  We share joys, and we share burdens.  It’s genuine, and it’s beautiful.    

Anonymity is easy, and I think that’s the problem with it.  The things most worth doing always have a cost.  We all want to participate in the Christian life as long as it does not require any sacrifices on our part.  We so easily forget the great sacrifice that Christ made for us.  So join a small group.  I dare you.  It will be hard and ugly and scary and awkward and different and life-giving and honest and worth it.