For as far back as I can remember through my childhood, we always ran a Tuesday night Bible study out of our home. Bearing in mind that I can remember back pretty far, I know that I was younger than five when we started this tradition; and the weekly meeting, what we called our “fellowship,” continued until I was about fourteen/fifteen. That’s quite a few Tuesdays! Couple in the holiday parties, cookouts, and other celebrations, and we spent quite a bit of time together.
Inevitably, there were periods of time where our fellowship sort of…stagnated. It became repetitious…the same meal, teaching, playtime for us kids, week after week. So the adults often tried to find ways to rock the boat and make fellowship interesting and exciting again. Some of what we tried really worked! Some of it…didn’t. But as I’ve gotten older, one thing I’ve realized is that our story is not a unique one. Most home churches, Bible studies, or fellowships, seem to go through phases where things become repetitive and unengaging. The same vein of teaching; the same songs; just the same thing, meeting after meeting.
As I’ve observed what these fellowships do to try and breathe a sense of vitality back into their gatherings, there are a few I’ve noticed that keep cropping up…because they’re pretty successful! Whether you’re stagnating, just starting a fellowship, or trying to get ahead of a burnout, here are four things you can try in order to “shake up” the monotony that sometimes paralyzes a home fellowship:
Hold a Q&A
If your fellowship is anything like ours was, you probably have one or two teachers who pass the ball back and forth; or maybe everyone teaches in rotation. But either way, that usually involves one person sharing what’s on their heart—what’s currently inspiring or motivating them. This formula can occasionally stagnate because what’s crucial for one person (the teacher) might not have as big an impact on others (the hearers)—so the people walk away not feeling spiritually “fed”.
Instead of having a teacher present what’s inspiring for just him/her, consider holding a Q&A session instead; have your fellowship write down on a slip of paper or an index card one question about a biblical topic that’s weighing on their hearts. Then devote the next meeting to tackling one, or several, or ALL of those questions! This allows the people who aren’t teaching to actively engage because they have a personal stake in what’s being taught. You can also spread out the questions through multiple meetings, depending on the size of your fellowship. And encourage people not to be afraid to ask the tough questions, the uncomfortable or difficult ones; these often create a crucible, and crucibles help us to grow.
Have a prayer night
When I was a kid, we had this ancient (it seemed to me) rocking chair that took up the middle of the living room. Mostly because it was our video game chair and we couldn’t be bothered to move it from in front of the TV every Tuesday. But we adapted that chair into what my parents called “the hot seat”; and inevitably, almost every week someone had a physical, mental, or “heart” sickness that needed praying for. Something was weighing them down, and that landed them in “the hot seat”. We’d all circle around the person in the rocking chair and pray fervently over them.
Throughout the course of our fellowship, I remember several times when that was all we did—circle up and pray. When a friend relapsed with cancer; when 9/11 happened; when there was hurt or anger or illness. Teachings are wonderful and sharings have their place; but if your fellowship is feeling detached, disassociated, or weighed down with life’s struggles, consider holding an exclusive “prayer night.” Bring everyone together and simply pray over every little thing (or big thing!) that’s bothering each of you. Not only is this a powerful form of spiritual warfare, but it can also knit your fellowship together in the bonds of brotherhood and unity as you fight for one another and bring your requests before God.
Start a series
Another problem some fellowships run into is a feeling as if the same topics are being covered over and over again…and usually by the same people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but repetition isn’t the only way we absorb information; sometimes we need to see things in a new light. It’s also important that we expand our spiritual horizons, so that we can continue to grow.
In the same vein as the Q&A session, taking on a series taught by a different teacher can often add a unique flavor to your fellowship. If there’s a particular subject you’re interested in, consider finding an audio or DVD seminar that covers it. Or, if you’re feeling brave, tackle a topic that seems “outside the nine dots”—something that might shake up your usual fare. Research defending the Faith, or Christian persecution; dive into the history of Christianity; find something that appeals to your fellowship, and take that journey together. This can often open the door to deep discussion as everyone walks that road of discovery side-by-side.
Eat a meal together
Some fellowships, like ours, try to make the community meal a part of every meeting. But there are others who just show up, listen up, get up, and leave.
If your fellowship falls into the second category, consider trying to host a meal together; have everyone pitch in and bring a dish, and sit down to eat together with no distractions. This was a habit that the apostles really encouraged…so much so, in fact, that it’s considered part of their “creed” in Acts 2! Breaking bread is something that families have done together since ancient times; and I can attest from experience that sharing a meal with your fellowship does create a sense of unique camaraderie, very much like family. You become privy to one another’s struggles, day-to-day lives, and unique intricacies as you banter over a bowl of soup or a good burger. That kind of intimacy doesn’t always come to light with small talk before or after a teaching. Some of the best memories are made and the best times are had over a good meal…this is as true for fellowships as for families.
These are just four suggestions, of course; there are so many ways that we can shake up and breathe life back into our fellowships when things get stale. If you feel like your fellowship is stagnating with the same ol’ same ol’ every meeting, consider trying out one of the tactics above. And if you know of another method that’s helped revitalize your spiritual gatherings, let us know! Fellowship, after all, is about full sharing…and we hope that in sharing these methods among our community, you’ll find your fellowship is better able to share and connect, too.