By Faith Hoyt
What started in February 2020 as study groups with a six-week commitment extended into a lifeline of connection for members of La Sierra University church—a connection that is still going strong.
In the weeks leading up to the shelter-in-place mandates for California residents, La Sierra University church was preparing for their seasonal Life Groups, which are geared to “gather regularly…around a common interest or characteristic,…remain open to new members,…receive pastoral care,…and intentionally create space for authentic, life-giving relationships to develop,” as stated on their Life Group page.
The Life Group cohort comprised six groups of 5 to 10 people studying a book together for six weeks, ending on Easter weekend. With news of COVID-19 mounting, the plans for what to do if church needed to look different came in tandem. Life Groups would move forward, albeit virtually if and when necessary.
“In the beginning, Pastor Chris Oberg was planning to do a series on how to read and understand the Bible, and how we approach it,” shared Raewyn Orlich, associate pastor for discipleship and nurture at La Sierra, describing the planning that took place right before the pandemic lockdown. The church had just received a shipment of the resource for their February track of Life Groups—John Brunt’s Enjoying Your Bible: Finding Delight in the Word. Printed by the Pacific Union’s Oak and Acorn Publishing ministry, the book would be used by individuals leading groups for their first time.
The church’s delivery of resources arrived the week of Feb. 18, and during that week over 230 books were handed out to members. Life Groups began meeting in early March. Then, on March 11, the church announced their transition of all worship experiences to online, a decision the church made out of faithfulness, not fear; they sought to be faithful in lessening the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on those most at risk.
“The Life Group created more intentionality to spend time in the Word and reflection,” shared Cindy Herzog, a Life Group participant. “The weekly commitment with the group provided a convenient way of gathering and feeling connected with other believers. The Life Group community and weekly reading and Scripture provided comfort, patience, guidance.”
Though the Life Group time commitment ended at Easter, several groups decided to keep meeting. And, almost one year later, they’re still meeting. They’ve read different books and studied different topics, but their interest in gathering together remains the same.
“It’s really cool they found that community, that groups kept meeting,” said Orlich. “It wasn’t an official activity, but they found such meaningful community. Many times, we have groups that form just for a season. Then there are groups that stay together. There’s value to both. Some are seasonal, and others continue on for years. It’s neat when community forms that stays.”