By Matt Chapin
The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Two couples from one of the newly formed Coast Hills Discipleship groups (D-Groups) have experienced the truth of that reality firsthand by the blessings of being involved in a small community of believers. Meet Jerry and Carol Denham, and Rich and Jodi Cocuzzo. Both couples joined the same D-Group last year, not knowing each other or what to expect.
Each couple comes from very different backgrounds. The Denhams have been attending Coast Hills for about twenty-three years, and have experienced various forms of involvement within the church. The Cocuzzos come from the opposite end of the spectrum. While they were married in the Catholic church, most of their married life was void of a meaningful faith. Despite the couples’ background differences, they have found the value of doing life together within a D-Group.
Their reasons for joining a D-Group differed as well. Jerry reflected, “I was the guy who knew of God but didn’t know God.” Jerry was initially skeptical at getting involved in any kind of small group, but for him, a commitment to D-Groups boiled down to one simple thing: understanding who Jesus is. To him, this is “the most important question in life, and if you can’t carve out an hour or two a week for pursuing Christ, something’s not right. Sometimes you have to realign your priorities.” Now having attended for several years, Jerry’s involvement in small groups has transformed his life.
After having attended Coast Hills for two years, the Cocuzzos joined a D-Group for the purpose of wanting to go deeper with their faith. In addition, Rich and Jodi both wanted to develop relationships with other believers with whom they could share their lives, because as she says, “I knew it would enrich our life.” Previously, Jodi did not have friends with whom she could relate on this level, until she met Carol. At a time in Jodi’s life when she needed help and prayer with a particular problem, she knew she could call Carol, a friend who would be available, and who would bring spiritual guidance to her as well.
Developing these kinds of relationships for Jodi has made a big impact. Participating in a D-Group has helped her to feel comfortable with sharing her life and what God is teaching her. As her husband Rich says, “It can be easy to be superficial here in Orange County,” but coming to D-Group has helped them put that mask aside. They now appreciate the support and encouragement from the other couples in the group, coming to see them as members of their own family.
Each person can identify some specific way this group has impacted them. For Carol, being a part of a couples D-Group has helped her marriage; in it, she feels they “grow closer in the Lord, because everything else in life pulls you away from one another.” For them, this is part of what it means to come together as one, growing in their relationship with God and with each other.
For Jerry, he knows he is “a better husband, father, and friend. I am less self-centered and selfish than I used to be. The Holy Spirit is pushing me, and I am wanting to be more caring and loving.” He also feels like he is learning how to better love his neighbor as a result of being in a D-Group.
The benefits for Rich have “exceeded his expectations and the benefits far outweigh what I initially thought.” Rich has seen his own faith deepened, found new friends, and enjoys “doing life together” with them. He describes the weekly meeting of his D-Group like getting his “spiritual gas tank filled up.” Also, as a frequent D-Group host, he has seen how his three daughters have also grown in their faith, as a result of their parents’ lead.
Both couples admitted that getting started in a small group was a little intimidating. For some couples, one spouse may be perceived to be more “spiritual” than the other, and the one who feels like the lesser may be intimidated to participate. Carol would strongly encourage others to “not hold back if a spouse is not interested. Just come because you need it.” However, for others, joining a D-Group is a venture into the unknown. As Rich would say, “Take the plunge, you’re not alone.”
Regardless of the Denham’s years of investment at Coast Hills, or the Cocuzzo’s newfound faith, both found their lives have been richly blessed by their participation in D-Groups. It has helped them live life with purpose, be accountable to one another, and grow as disciples. Their D-Group is a place where they feel safe to be whom they are, and where they find encouragement, strength, and hope for the difficult battles of life. Last but not least, it is about family. Carol sees “God’s vision for community being in small settings where people get to know each other well and become more like a family.” And with the variety of D-Groups now forming at Coast Hills, participating in God’s family has never been easier.