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Small Groups Fair Offers Something for Everyone
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by Glenda Hass

Whether you enjoy running, biking, tennis, photography, or just enjoy eating out regularly, you could find a group to match your interest at the Small Groups Fair held January 12, 2013, at University Parkway Church in Pensacola, Florida. Members and visitors could sign up for small groups focused on these and other activities at any of a dozen booths, where leaders answered questions and shared their areas of interest. Altogether, more than 100 participants signed up for the various small groups, some for two or more groups.

The Fair was organized as a result of a discussion between the newly arrived pastor, Jeffery Crain, and Richard Reyes, elder, about strategies to grow University Parkway Church. Crain said he had had success with small groups at previous churches where he pastored. Reyes led out in recruiting members already involved in various leisure activities. “The goal is connecting with others through fellowship. We hope to invite many others from the community to connect with the church and Jesus through these activities,” said Crain.

There are already signs that this approach combining church fellowship and community outreach is working. Reyes’ wife, Rayna, posted information about the groups on Craigslist, and received a text reply from a woman interested in racquetball, tennis, and running. A neighbor of one member signed up for the handcrafters’ small group. Leader Marla Schilling said she is very excited about her group. “This will give us an opportunity to get to know one another better, and develop some close friendships as we share new craft ideas, visits, and create something with our hands.”

In addition to newly formed small groups, several groups already in existence added new members at the Fair. The Running group, led by InStep for Life coordinator Erika Peterson, added about 20 members. Sports enthusiasts can also choose such activities as cycling, golfing, biking, tennis, and racquetball. Fifteen additional individuals signed up for the International Diners’ Club. Organizer Maria Nelson noted that “each month we experience a different culinary adventure at various area restaurants. We have fun, fellowship, and good conversation.”

On the more spiritual side, there is an already existing Prayer Warrior group and a ShareHim group. The ShareHim group of 13 members met with Crain to plan two ShareHim seminars in September. To follow up on the success of this kickoff event, the members plan to repeat a Small Groups Fair every 90 days. Crain explains, “That will give people an opportunity to rotate to a different small group and promote community awareness and participation in our Christian fellowship groups. As church members become more connected, they will invite others to join them in a nonthreatening circle of friends. The hope is that sharing our interests in the small groups will help build relationships for eternity.”

Glenda Hass is a retired Federal Civil Service worker, and serves as the clerk for the University Parkway Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pensacola, Florida

Reprinted from the April 2013 SOUTHERN TIDINGS