The Chamber Music of a Small Group
Guest Poster, Amanda Wen compares a classical symphony orchestra to the intimacy of a chamber group and their similarities to Big Church and Small Groups.
Being a professional cellist means dealing with a lot of people. In a symphony orchestra—where cellists can most frequently be found—you’re sharing the stage with eighty other people. And while you generally know most of their names, especially if you’ve been in the same orchestra for a while, due to the nature of rehearsals there’s not a lot of time to chitchat. During a rehearsal itself, the conductor addresses the group at large, and other conversation is kept to a strict minimum. As a result, it’s easy—especially for an introvert—to get lost in the crowd. To have dozens of acquaintances, but not many friends.
Many musicians, however, also perform frequently with smaller ensembles. Woodwind quintets, string quartets, piano trios, and the like. These smaller ensembles—called chamber groups, since in their earliest incarnation they, performed in parlors and drawing rooms in elegant homes—are much more intimate. Since there is no conductor, all decisions about artistic expression, dynamic contrast, and other musical details must be reached as a group. As a result, there’s a good deal of discussion—sometimes spirited—among the members. This can be uncomfortable at first, but as rehearsals progress and the group bonds, the deep connections the introvert craves form, and lifelong friendships can blossom. As I look back on my music career to this point, the musicians to whom I feel the closest are almost exclusively those with whom I’ve performed in chamber groups.
As a lifelong attendee of large, extrovert-oriented churches, I’ve found many similarities between church culture and the world of classical music. Crowded parking lots and sanctuaries tend to overwhelm and make a person shut down.
Forced “shake hands and say hello to the person next to you” greeting times during worship sets are incredibly awkward. Constant exhortations to preach the Gospel to everyone you meet—even/especially people you don’t know well—fit me about as well as socks on a chicken (to quote my dad).
BUT. Many large churches have learned that in order to keep people from getting lost in the shuffle, smaller groups are essential. The churches with a thriving small group ministry feature groups to fit a variety of schedules and stages of life. I’ve been in groups that never clicked and never made it past that super-awkward first-meeting phase…but I’ve also been in groups that lasted for years and created the deep connections and authentic friendships introverts crave.
Small groups—be they musical or otherwise—are almost always uncomfortable at first. As we get to know one another better, I can pretty much count on being supremely annoyed—at least sometimes—by one or more members. Small groups can sometimes be intrusive and step on your toes and make you aware of faults and flaws you wish hadn’t been brought to light. But, whether the problem is something musical like rushing ahead of the beat or something personal, like a bad habit or a propensity toward a certain sin, exposure and awareness are the first steps toward fixing it. And this level of relationship and trust, where people can lovingly point out one another’s flaws, takes the kind of intimacy only a smaller group can provide.
Chamber groups and small church groups also, at their best, are totally unified. String quartets work tirelessly to match vibrato and make sure each chord is fully in tune. But unity does not mean conformity. Each instrument has its own unique voice, and the composers have written distinct parts for each player. Were an instrument absent, its voice would be sorely missed, and a proper performance of the work would not be possible. Similarly, church small groups are at their best when they unify, but do not totally conform. Diverse personalities, backgrounds, ages, and ethnicity can unify for a common purpose: the love and glory of God. It is this unity that a watching world finds compelling. It is this that draws others to the Lord.
If your church has a small group ministry, I encourage you to check it out. It may be uncomfortable. You have to try a few groups before you find your fit. But, as with chamber music, my experience tells me they’re one of the best ways to keep you from getting lost in the crowd of a larger church.
To form the deep connections an introvert needs.
And to play your part well for the glory of the Lord.
Have you found a small group? What challenges have you faced in a small group? What do you love about your small group?
Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of inspirational romance and split-time women’s fiction. She has placed first in multiple contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler Contest, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions Contest, among others. She was also a 2018 ACFW Genesis Contest finalist.
Amanda is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and regularly contributes author interviews for their Fiction Finder feature. She also frequently interviews authors for her blog, and is a regular contributor to the God Is Love blog. Her work is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.
In addition to her writing, Amanda is an accomplished professional cellist, frequently performing with symphony orchestras, string quartets, and her church’s worship team. She’s also been spotted onstage with the worship band at ACFW conferences. A lifelong denizen of the flatlands, Amanda currently lives in Kansas with her patient, loving, and hilarious husband and their three adorable Wenlets. She would love to connect with you at her website or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.