When you survey the literature about small groups and community, something becomes quite clear. There seems to be two distinct camps. On one side you find those who write and speak about how to develop "connecting" small groups. On the other side there are those talking about missional communities and missional small groups. In most cases, each side talks about their approach in exclusion to the other experience.
Let me be clear: writers about connecting small group structures focus on how to develop systems and curriculum that focuses on things like closing the back door, making the church 'sticky' and getting 100% of the church involved in groups. Of course there is a kind of life that they want those groups to experience, usually identified as "healthy" but the system is set up to connect people who attend the weekend services.
Writers about missional community focus things like creating a way of life that is in contrast to the dominant culture, embracing a set of 'forgotten ways', developing a discipleship culture, experimenting with ways of engaging the neighborhood and even abandoning traditional forms of church life.
There seems to be a concrete wall between these two sets of ideas. The assumption is that the ways of thinking are mutually exclusive. And that might be the case, but we have forced people to choose according to an either/or paradigm. You are either leading a traditional church that wants to connect people or you are doing something radical which gets equated with being missional. Is this the only option?
Can we move beyond this either/or mindset? Isn't the both/and approach just as viable? And in many cases more so? I know it complicates things to combine two sets of ideas that seem to be mutually exclusive, but I'd like to suggest that this is exactly the approach that most churches need to take at this juncture in American church life.
If we could do both/and, both connecting small groups and missional communities, what would it look like? This is the first in a series that I've written. Here's the link to part 2.