Last week, I talked with a Presbyterian pastor who has a heart for developing community that, in his words, "does life at the margins." But he also realizes that most of the people in his church are not ready for this. This is a common conversation I am having now. Some have jumped quickly into the missional community vision, turning all of their groups into MCs by giving them a new name. Then they realize after the fact that their people are not prepared for life in community on mission.
So if you have a vision for missional community and you only have a handful of people who are ready for it, what do you do with the rest of your people. Here are some thoughts to get you started:
- Don't think either/or. Think both/and. I've found that most established churches will need both "normal" small groups and "missional" communities. The both/and approach may not be permanent, but it's necessary to prepare people for missional living.
- Develop a "normal" small group strategy that has the goal of connecting people, while providing an opportunity for people take steps toward something more. There is no one-approach-fits-all strategy. Right now I am helping one church adapt aspects of Activate by Nelson Searcy, another church adapt the principles found in Sticky Church by Larry Osborne, and another develop a unique strategy that incorporates their long-running success with Alpha. For five years in the church in Saint Paul, we adapted the church-wide campaign approach. Find and develop a preparation strategy that fits you. Don't copy the exact plan of someone else.
- Think short-term small groups: six-weeks, semesters or 9 months. Resist the temptation to create and maintain perpetual groups of people who are not equipped to live out God's mission in our neighborhoods. This gives you an out if the group is not taking steps toward the vision.
- Train your leaders of these short-term groups with something very basic. Don't overwhelm them with a big book that they won't read or a day-long training that they will wish they had skipped. Give them a basic introductory training, some short articles and some youtube links. Then follow up with conversations and some just-in-time training.
- When a group looks like they are asking for something more than the normal experience, don't shock them with the radical vision for missional community yet. Give them an experiment that they can handle. Then build on that. Here's a link to some free curriculum called The Journey Together that helps a group discover a different way of doing life together which will prepare them for missional community.