by Jim Killam | 5-minute read
Community and understanding thrive in this unusual Life Group
Newly married and living in a Rockford neighborhood, Brennan and Jade Hailey knew what they were looking for: Close-knit community. Accountability. A chance to learn and grow. A chance to extend the love of Jesus to others, and to work past our culture’s stereotypes about Christians.
But they were having trouble finding all that, especially with people their own age (late 20s). First Free’s Life Groups were fine and all, but what else might they try?
So they thought: We have friends who go to different churches. We have other friends who don’t consider themselves Christians. We know them all pretty well. What if we invited everyone to hang out at our house and talk about faith together?
So they started inviting people. This would mean foregoing a regular life group with church friends to do something that felt a little riskier. Brennan and Jade saw the decision not as sacrifice, but as opportunity cost.
To their surprise and delight, people said yes.
The group meets at the Haileys’ house on a weeknight from 7 to 9:30ish. About a dozen attend. People usually bring food, so the first half-hour is socializing. In the early days, the evening’s topic might have come from a book like Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.
Everyone quickly found common ground they weren’t necessarily expecting. Especially among the non-Christians, there were those perceptions to be confronted. That Christians hate LGBTQ people. That they don’t accept immigrants. The usual politics- and media-driven stereotypes. “That’s just not how we were raised and that’s not the Lord and Savior that either of us know,” Brennan says.
“At one of our first sessions we said we wanted to go around and have everyone say what they grew up believing and what they believe now,” Jade says. “Just laying a foundation of who is in the room. Even just through that simple conversation, it really opened up discussion points. Oh, so you don’t believe that? Or you are welcoming of that? Things they weren’t aware of just because of that stereotype that can be placed on Christianity.”
“It was interesting to find how much common ground we have with the folks who aren’t Christians,” Brennan adds. “Morals. Treating people the way you want to be treated. Everyone in the group is extremely conscious of the decisions that they make and the impact on other folks, whether they are Christian or not.”
When the Haileys were first inviting friends to the group, they called it a Bible study. They wanted to be completely upfront, but it did almost scare a couple of people away. During one of the early meetings, someone asked Brennan: “Don’t you kind of get extra points for converting people to Christianity? Isn’t that kind of a thing?”
“I didn’t realize that was what other people thought,” Brennan says. “I said absolutely not. It’s just the idea that we have the truth and it is beautiful to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t get some sort of bonus points in the afterlife. This is just because I care about your soul.”
The group is in its third year now. A different person leads each time and chooses the topic, starting with a short video or podcast. The only parameters are that it has to be from the realm of intellectual, spiritual or personal growth.
“The cool thing we found,” Brennan says, “is because we are not controlling the content, we can still bring a Christian perspective into any topic that we discuss. To say, ‘This is what we believe about education, or immigration. And I’ll tell you why we believe this, because it goes back to the first truths. Because we value human life, we know we are supposed to love these people by doing that.’”
Jade adds: “We are called to give a reason why we believe what we believe. It’s been nice because every session that we have, people will leave and I will reflect, This is why I believe what I believe. This is the biblical truth that it coincides with. So I feel like it’s a constant reflection on the faith that you have and why you have it.”
And it’s all wrapped in authentic friendship and community.
“People want a place where they can be honest and open, and talk about the things they are wrestling with,” Brennan says. “You have to be comfortable with a person to come over to their house and talk about deep things.”
Jade and Brennan both grew up in Stillman Valley. They’ve been married 3 ½ years and have two daughters: Harper, 20 months, and newborn Hayden.