When I say “affinity-based small groups” do you know what I mean? In the American church today, we organize many of our small groups around certain “affinities.” It could be “young families” or “20-somethings” or “singles” or “retired couples.” Organizing our groups around that can be helpful. I’m thankful for the newly married small group my wife and I were in during our first two years of marriage. But affinity-based small groups may not be a gospel-shaped community. Think with me for a moment on this.
One of the things the gospel accomplished was to bring opposites together. A holy, righteous, God was united to an unholy, unrighteous people. Before the gospel, God and this group of lost sinners didn’t have much in common. What the gospel did was unite these two together. If the gospel does that with God and sinners, we would probably expect to see that manifested in other areas of life like…community!
One piece of evidence of a gospel-shaped community is that it brings together people who may not have anything in common other than the gospel. One person might be a white, retired, factory worker with grandkids, while the other is a black, 30-something, single, executive. What could the two of them have in common? On the surface, maybe not much. This is the beauty of the gospel. It unites opposites.
So one evidence of a community that’s been brought into existence by the gospel is diversity. The problem with affinity-based small groups is that you don’t really need the gospel for it to exist. What can rally these people together is the commonality of being young parents, or being single, or being retired. Jesus can drift into the background while our struggles with being new parents becomes the focal point of each gathering.
What I would love to see in the American church is more diversity in our gatherings. I’d love to see people who have very little in common spending lots of time together because what draws them to each other isn’t an affinity, but the gospel of Jesus Christ!