I debated which of the 5 reasons to make #1 & decided, for me at least, Fellowship is primary. Yes, the other 4 are very important yet for women, the opportunity to spend time enjoying the company of other women is very important.
A few years ago, I saw a program about a small factory that employed retired people. The men in the story explained how important working was to them. Men, they said, identify themselves by what they do. When they retire, men have no answer to the question, "What do you do?" "I'm retired" made them feel like nothing. Men identify themselves by what they do. Listen to 2 men when they first meet one another. They find common ground by the things they do, including their job. Women, on the other hand, find common ground with other women by who they know. They work to make a connection through common relationships: where their kids go to school, what church they attend, neighbors, etc. Women identify themselves by who they know & when their relationships, their network is limited, they feel unsure of themselves. Years ago, I was laid off from a job at my church. While I had only worked there for 8 or so years, I had been a part of the church for 18 years. I attended services, did my seminary internship, taught many classes & in one moment, all that was gone. I mourned the loss of my network more than I did my job. ALL my relationships were at the church. Even now, years later, I have never built as strong a network as I had back then. I was frightened & felt alone. Our network of women means a lot to us & gives us a strength we can't get anywhere else. That being said, here are 3 strong reasons why fellowship in small groups is so important to women:
- Stronger Relationships: Even the most outgoing woman benefits from the intimacy of a small group. While you may develop good relationships with the women you know in larger groups, you have to admit you are closer to the women you have met in smaller groups. In a small group, you get to know EVERYONE in the group. You don't just get to know them, you know them intimately. Even quiet women are more willing to open up & share within a small group. The type of group I am discussing includes prayer which means each member, over time, shares concerns & needs with the other members. When women share, pray & support one another, it's only natural for them to develop stronger relationships with one another.
- Shared Experience: Back in high school & college, I was active in the youth group of my church; first as a member, then as a sponsor. We began each year, at the beginning of the school year, with a week-end retreat. These retreats were bonding experiences for all those who attended. While other members of the group were never made to feel left out, the events that occurred during our retreats were the shared experiences we discussed & laughed about throughout the year. While you may never go on retreat with your group (although I highly recommend it), the experiences you share within the group are events that bond your relationship with one another. Even if your small group is part of a larger network of groups, members of each group will have a unique relationship based on their time of fellowship. Fellowship offers members the opportunity to create memories that last for a very long time.
- Fun: Cyndi Lauper is right: Girls just want to have fun! The strong relationships & shared experiences I discussed in the first 2 items are made even better when everyone is having fun. This doesn't mean time spent in your small group is always a laugh riot. There are many serious things to be considered, discussed & done within your group. And while the support & encouragement you receive within your group are very important, it is the fun you have with the other women that keeps you, & the other members, coming back again & again.
We need to accept the importance of fellowship in order to attract women to our small groups. At first, this may be the one factor that keeps women coming back to our gatherings time after time. Over time, other factors become as, if not more important to members however, having a good time & enjoying the company of women may be what gets them in the door. And before you get up in arms that fellowship is such an important factor, look at the closing verses of the second chapter of the book of Acts. When listing the activities members of the early church engaged in, fellowship takes a prominent position. Fellowship allows us to grow closer, to deepen our relationships with one another. Fellowship should never be discounted as frivolous. This is why I listed it first!