In his essay introducing The Long Now Foundation, Brian Eno tells the story of visiting a wealthy friend in her downtown loft, in an otherwise destitute Manhattan neighborhood circa 1978:
I just didn’t understand. Why would anyone spend so much money building a place like that in a neighbourhood like this? Later I got into conversation with the hostess. “Do you like it here?” I asked. “It’s the best place I’ve ever lived”, she replied. “But I mean, you know, is it an interesting neighbourhood?” “Oh ? the neighbourhood? Well– that’s outside!” she laughed.
The incident stuck in my mind. How could you live so blind to your surroundings? How could you not think of “where I live” as including at least some of the space outside your four walls, some of the bits you couldn’t lock up behind you? I felt this was something particular to New York: I called it “The Small Here”. I realised that, like most Europeans, I was used to living in a bigger Here.
Part of Eno’s point is that what we mean by “here” has a sliding scale to it. Sometimes “here” is the room you’re sitting in; sometimes it’s your block; sometimes it’s your neighborhood; sometimes it’s the Greater Metropolitan Area. We make those spatial adjustments all the time without thinking about it. When we’re looking for a paperclip nearby, the “here” is even smaller than Eno’s friend’s; but when we’re looking for a new apartment, the scope widens dramatically.
“The Small Here.” I like that phrase. As I’ve been pondering these words, I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my job as the director of small groups in our children’s ministry should be to create a smaller “here.” Leaders in children’s and family ministry need to crack the code in their contexts on how small or big their “here” is. Here are some key questions:
• Do kids only experience community in large groups?
• Does a large group only context create opportunity for kids to experience the kinds of relationships with other kids and adult leaders that could catapult their spiritual growth?
• Do I consider a small group 8 kids or 15 kids?
• What are the ideal sizes of my small groups?
• What steps do I need to take to make these groups smaller? Is it a recruiting step, a vision casting step, or a training step?