Lent Conversion Through Small Group Experiences

Experience has shown us that small groups are the most effective way to evangelize. It is almost impossible to evangelize crowds. Through the experience of small Christian communities, people convert, and small groups are the most effective way to lead people to conversion. 

Jesus, in His very first public address, talked about conversion. He said, “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). This word repent comes from the Greek word metanoia which literally means to change the way you think which leads to a change in emotions and a change in behavior. 

The small group experience empowers people to change their way of thinking, their way of believing, their way of acting. The group spiritual energy is what leads to a change in values and behavior. Truly, a unique and special process emerges from listening and sharing. 

Unfortunately, preaching very often does not facilitate conversion. Taking courses in Catholic theology does not lead to conversion. Discussions of Church issues do not lead to conversion. None of these group experiences has the same power to convert in the way that a small Christian community does.

The small Christian community is the optimal environment to empower our parishioners to make a serious commitment to the way of Jesus. It is the most effective way to help one another convert. 

All of us have a story to tell. You have a story about God. You have a story about your childhood and God. You have a story about your adolescence and God. You have a story about your marriage and God. You have a story about the losses in your life. You have a story about the graces in your life. You have a story about all your relationships and God.

Tell Your Story

Your whole life is one big story waiting to be told. You tell your story as reflected in the light of the great God story. You tell your story by “being yourself.” You tell your unique story. You tell the truth. You are immersed in truth. 

You delve deeply. You awaken your heart. You connect with your core. You reveal the hidden self in a safe environment. You share your faith. You find a depth. You find new strength. You reveal your experience of God’s love within the self. 

You talk about some insight you received in the Scripture reading. You talk about some insight you received at Mass. You talk about some answer to a prayer. You talk about some pain in your life. You talk about some peace in your life. You open up. You feel safe. You feel support. You are as verbal or as private as you want to be. You have a right. You have a choice. You have freedom. You can decide. You discern what is best. You are assured confidentiality. 

“Spiritual formation is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It is about the movements from the mind to the heart . . . that unite us to God, to each other and to our truest selves” (Nouwen). You tell your story. You re-experience the event. You leap from the mind to the heart and facilitate spiritual formation. 

You talk about some wound in your heart. You talk about the cluttered heart. You talk about the painful heart. You talk about the peaceful heart. You talk about some unexpected little miracle in your life. You talk about some incidents that remind you that God is close to you. 

This is how you gain self-understanding. This is where you self-accept. This is where you self-focus. This is where you self-explore. This is where you gain self-insight. This is where you experience God’s involvement. 

This is how you convert. This is how you transform. This is how you self-care the soul. This is how you find the “self-living-in-God.” This is how you self-evangelize. This is how you evangelize others. This is how ordinary people help other ordinary people find God. 

This is how you find loving kindness. This is how you heal the body. This is how you heal the mind. This is how you heal the soul. This is how you heal the spirit. This is how you breathe in the crisp air of the Spirit of Lent. 

The faith-sharing in the small group is the key to personal conversion. This is the place where we connect our individual stories with the Bible story just read. Here we connect our faith with our everyday life experiences. Here we connect with our hearts where God abides. 

The small Christian community is not a discussion group. There are no pros and cons. It is a sacred space where individual stories are shared and reverenced. It is done in the mirror of the great God story as revealed in the Bible. Here in this sharing and in this listening we sow the seeds of conversion. 

The teller of the story and the empathic listening by others are intertwined deeply at the same time. The participants are at once humbled and inspired. They are wrapped in the experience of God in their lives. It is uplifting and at the same time challenging. 

When we share our faith, we grow in our faith. When share our faith, we stop the downward spiral of feeling alone or misunderstood on the spiritual path. The sharing inspires us to live more by faith and less by sight. It opens up new vistas and new ways of envisioning this one and only journey we are on. 

One woman said, “It is through the small Christian community experience I discovered a deeper patience with the questions in my life. I developed more faith that the answers would come in their own time. They would come in God’s time.”

More Excited About Life

Another young man said, “The small Christian community experience left me more excited about life again. I have much less emotional pain. My values have changed. My priorities are different. I seem to have more control. I’m less impulsive.” 

A young widow put it this way: “I look forward to getting together with my new friends. I like reflecting on the sacred Scriptures and telling our stories. It recharges my batteries. I regain perspective. I am learning and experiencing myself and God in a new way.” 

An elderly gentleman who had been away from the Church for a long time put it this way: “I have reignited my relationship with Jesus. I feel transformed. I did not do it alone. God’s grace is there all the time. Now, I am more hospitable to His presence. I feel great.” 

Another seeker of self and God put it this way: “I have been transformed. I have a new awareness of God’s movement in my life.”

Msg. Morgan is retired and a priest of the Diocese of Camden. He is a New Jersey licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist.