The River Church Community has been my one and only church home. I started attending back when we met in the gymnasium of the Sunnyvale Community Center. I didn’t know anyone, so I appreciated how the dim lighting enabled me to slink out unnoticed as soon as service was over.
My desire to go unnoticed was rooted in my fear of being unaccepted. I never felt worthy of love, so I believed if I avoided eye contact and stayed on the perimeter, I could elude being known and eventually rejected.
I didn’t know any better. I didn’t grow up in the church and was a relatively new believer. I thought the whole purpose of church was to hear a sermon.
Eventually my desperate need to belong overcame my fear of rejection. I don’t remember having a revelation or making a conscious decision to get involved. But once I started, my striving nature kicked in. I quickly joined the teardown and setup team, served on the creative team that planned Sunday services, took the Foundations and Stepping Into Service classes, and volunteered for the compassion ministry.
The teardown and setup team is where I made my first real connections with people at The River. As a volunteer on that team, I was invited to join their small group. Almost twenty years later, I remain friends with people who served on that team.
When the group leaders moved, it dissolved. The service component remained, but the ongoing community did not.
I tried joining other groups afterwards, but for whatever reason, they never lasted long. I joined one group with a lot of other single people around my age. They studied scripture together and hung out socially, so I started meeting with them.
It was great—until it wasn’t. After a conflict, several members left the church, and the group disbanded.
I joined another group. When those leaders left The River, I was again left without community.
The repeated “failure” of finding a lasting small group community reinforced the lie that I didn’t belong anywhere. Coupled with burning out from volunteering too much (and for the wrong reasons), I chose to step away from serving. By not participating in anything, I isolated myself, which compounded my feelings of being alone and unloved.
I eventually attended my first session of The Healing Path and started counseling. Having safe spaces to share and be heard was new to me. As I began working through my issues, it became clear that my desires to be seen, known, and loved were from God. God wanted me to grow in my individual relationship with him, but he also wanted me to be in community with other believers.
A few years after I began counseling, I was invited to participate in a new small group with married couples, families with young children, young adults right out of college, and another single woman close to my age. We did inductive Bible studies, shared meals, and formed friendships.
God used this community to challenge me in ways I hadn’t experienced before. I learned that conflict doesn’t automatically lead to hate or rejection. That was a huge revelation to me. God showed me that, in actuality, when you invest in a relationship and work through conflict, you can create even stronger friendships.
Image courtesy of Lorianne Lee
The leaders of that group wanted to add a service component to our regular gatherings. To be honest, I was so focused on my healing and relationship with Jesus that I didn’t want to look outside myself. Thankfully, God had other plans, and our group began volunteering at Heritage Home.
That small group eventually ended, but a few of us continued to serve at Heritage Home. Nine years later, we still volunteer once a month and host an annual baby shower. Being in community with the women at Heritage Home is something I see as a blessing from God.
Image courtesy of Lorianne Lee
I’ve learned I need regular, ongoing accountability to motivate me. That’s one reason why I like participating in book groups. My last small group was actually formed by a group of women who participated in the same book study.
Image courtesy of Lorianne Lee
Over the years, I have tried to find a small group community that fulfills all my needs, including:
- I want to be truly known and accepted.
- I want to study God’s word.
- I want to meet regularly.
- I want to be with people who want to grow in their relationships with Christ.
- I want a safe space where we can talk about hard things.
- I want transparent relationships where people can speak truth and not just be polite.
- I want to do fun social things.
- I want to be with people who want to serve others.
That is a crazy long wish list, and I didn’t even mention my desire to share food or my need to meet at a cat-free location.
It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I understand now that it is unrealistic to find a small group that meets all my needs or lasts forever.
God wants me to be in community, but he never said community had to be one small group of people. It’s unfair for me to expect any person or group to be my be-all and end-all.
When my last small group ended, I asked God to show me how and where he wanted me to find community, since he is the one who placed that desire in my heart.
I haven’t received a clear answer yet, but I’m taking a posture of openness and trying to diversify my options. I’m currently mentoring a new believer. I meet with a professional coach and a personal mentor, I’m being more intentional with a couple of friendships, and I just signed up for the small group incubator.
With my new, more realistic expectations, I am hopeful God will provide the exact community I need for this season.
Lorianne Lee was a teacher for nineteen years, and she has been a part of The River Church Community for seventeen years. Lorianne is a creature of habit. She doesn’t like surprises or change. In fact, she admits it bothers her if someone sits in “her spot” at church. Lorianne appreciates God’s sense of humor, and she finds it ironic that God is changing her in so many ways. Lorianne wants to be open to whatever God has planned, even if that includes change.