Fifteen years ago small groups were something only renegade churches tried. Now small groups, house churches, mid-size (20-50 people) communities and other forms of organic/relational gatherings are so common that it's hard to find a church that doesn't do some form of groups. In addition, if you go back fifteen years, the concept of "missional" was only a term being bantered about by a group of six authors who were asking big questions about what it meant to be the church in North America. Their work resulted in a landmark book entitled Missional Church.
I've been editing and writing on small groups for nearly 20 years and on missional for the last five. To do this I have had to keep track of what people are writing and saying about these two areas. And to be honest, I cannot keep up. There is just too much being written and too many conferences about these two hot topics. Now of course the conversations about these two topics have merged. If you follow any of the chatter in the small group world, the idea that groups should be missional is commonly accepted by even conservative church leaders. One pastor recently stated at a conference that nothing fosters community like a common mission.
Honestly I'm thrilled by the energy that people have for the idea of missional community. But at the same time I'm troubled by what's being promoted as missional group life. Most of what I see bantered around as missional community falls short of what I'd like to see. The focus seems to fall squarely on various ways of “doing” mission instead of “being” missional. Let me illustrate with a few concrete examples:
Servant Evangelism: I think the stuff that Steve Sjogren has developed over the last 20 years is great. Creating low-risk opportunities to serve people is a great way to get people out in a community. Groups can work together to do things like passing out water bottles at a local beach to mowing yards on a local street. Great stuff. But I am looking for more.
Relationship Evangelism: Statistics reveal that most people who come to faith in Jesus do so through a relationship with a Christian friend, relative, co-worker or neighbor. It is common for small group training curriculum to promote relationship evangelism as part of the life of a healthy group. But is leading our friends to make a decision for Christ enough? I'm looking for more.
Project or Task Ministry: Taking on specific service projects is also promoted as missional: serving at a homeless shelter, tutoring kids who live in under-resourced neighborhoods, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity are examples of this. All good stuff. I've got no problem with any of them. But there is something else.
Now before you think me overly critical, let me say that I used to teach and have written about all of these in a positive light over the years. But adding one or even all of them to a groups life will not make them missional. There must be more. We've been doing these kinds of things in small groups for decades and they've fallen short of really making a difference in our world. Do we really need more doing? Or might there be a different perspective?
What do you long to see in a group that is missional?