Jumping Into Dinner Group

Dinner groups relaunch Sunday, September 10th! Are you ready to jump in? Here’s the story of a group that did just that. (No, seriously. They went skydiving.)

Years ago, my wife Nancy and I led the first couple’s dinner group at Hoboken Grace. Including us, there were three couples. All of us were very different people in very different stages of our lives.

It seemed like a small group. It seemed like there were only three people, not six. If one person couldn’t attend, it usually meant neither person in the couple would show up.

On days like that, I felt insecure about my ability to be a good leader. What was I doing wrong that made the group so empty?

At one point, I expressed to Pastor Chris my concern that our group seemed to have plateaued. There was a measure of connection, but it felt like there was some missing depth. And since this was the first couples dinner group — an experiment, of sorts — that wasn’t a good sign for the long run. He suggested we needed something that would give our group a jolt.

I jokingly said that when a parachute opens, there’s a good jolt, so maybe I should take the group skydiving. Pastor Chris said he thought that might be a good idea. I was kidding, but he was completely serious.

Although I was no longer certified to teach skydiving, I could easily coordinate a skydiving event.

Leading up to the event, I was pretty nervous because I wanted everything to go smoothly. Four of us would be making the jump, with the other two watching below.

When we got to the airport, the first thing we had to do was watch a video showing the horrors of getting hurt or dying skydiving. The video lists the many potential dangers, complete with an ambulance scene. Then we all had to sign a document promising that if we got hurt or died, no one would sue the skydiving company. Part of the sales pitch, by the way, is that it wouldn’t matter even if someone sued – no one at the airport had any money or assets, so it wouldn’t really be worth it.

It’s not the most reassuring way to start the day.

My nerves melted once we climbed into the airplane. Each person would be strapped to an experienced instructor, to ensure that the parachute would open on time and that they would land safely.

But as we rode up to 13,000 feet, I watched the faces of those with me. I love the fear that first-time skydivers feel. The terror is a sharp tang that enhances the euphoria they’ll experience once the parachute opens overhead.

You can’t really hear anything falling at 120 miles per hour, but after that minute of freefall, the parachute opens and slows you down to reasonable speed. When it came time for each person to jump, I could hear them whooping as their instructors spiraled down to the landing zone.

One of the things I’ve learned from the experience is I can take advantage of my typical inclinations to create connection. I love adventure, so that’s a place where I can build connection. My wife is great at making people feel comfortable at home, so she builds connection that way.

But I also think about how that experience launched others outside their comfort zone, and provided exactly the jolt we needed. In the weeks and months that followed, I grew very close with the people in that dinner group. It’s a bond that still impacts me, despite the years that have passed and the miles that now separate us.

Looking back, the experience provided momentum not only for the six of us, but also for couples dinner groups as a whole. If our group attendance had continued to plateau, that might have been the end of couples dinner groups at Hoboken Grace. Instead, 13 couples groups will launch next week, with room for 130 people to attend. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so today. It might be just the jolt you’re looking for.

Justin is an elder at Hoboken Grace.

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