Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Both Small Groups and Missional Communities, Side-by-Side

About a year ago I was in the middle of writing a blog series entitled "Is Both/And Possible?" In these posts, I was proposing the idea that most churches need to think in terms of two kinds of groups, both connecting small groups and missional communities, primarily because most people are not ready to jump immediately into the missional experience; they need preparation. Most resources available speak to these two experiences in exclusive terms. For a quick look at the previous posts in this series, click here.
I needed to take a break from writing this series because I needed to do further research and test out my convictions. Now, I'm more convinced than ever that most Western churches need to think in terms of both/and not either/or.

Because various writers have defined the terms "small groups" and "missional communities" to refer to specific structures, I need adopt some new language. For instance, the small group experience is most often associated with a structure that involves 10-15 people who meet to discuss the Bible. And Missional Communities is a label used to describe a group of 20-50 people who have a specific target for ministry in the community. When I talk about both/and in a seminar setting, one of the first things that I have to communicate is the fact that I'm not primarily talking about a strategy or structure. In the development of both/and, it is crucial NOT to think in terms of structure, but in terms of experience or "story" as I call it in my book Missional Small Groups.

So let's think in terms of two different experiences or stories. The first is a Connecting Life Together. These are groupings of all kinds that aim at connecting people and helping them to learn how to do relationships in a healthy way. These are great "close the back door" strategies for a local church, but most of the time getting people into connecting life together is the end goal. There is little more beyond that. There are many effective strategies at our disposal for accomplishing the goal of connecting people in life together. Here are a few.

The second experience is Missional Life Together, which can come in many forms and sizes. This is a community of people who are on a journey to make a difference in the world. Connecting is a part of this journey, but it involves much more than "closing the back door" of the church. It means releasing people to embody the Gospel in local neighborhoods. This is what I write about in my books Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate: Becoming a Church of Missional Small Groups. But let me reiterate, the use of "small groups" in these titles is a bit misleading. The focus lies on the experience, not the structure or size.

What do you see as some of the differences in the experience of Connecting Life Together and Missional Life Together? Why might it be wise to think in terms of both/and instead of either/or?

1 comment:

Andrew Mason said...

I read the first paragraph, click on the link, scrolled all the way down and started reading from the beginning. Awesome perspective here! I highly recommend anyone seeing this comment to read the whole series...

One of the differences is the expectations of a group member. In a Connecting group there is more room for receiving and observing. In a Missional group there would be a greater necessity for giving and being there for somebody or something else.
It would be wise to think in terms of "both" for the purpose of being balanced in spiritual formation(I did everything I could to stay away from "holistic.")