Monday, March 11, 2013

What Story Is Your Small Group Telling?

When I think about all of the small groups that I've led or participated in, I've concluded that the thing that matter the least is the stuff that we focus on the most in our small group strategies. Usually we focus on things like what should we study or who should be a part of the group or what will we do in our meetings. But we don't seem to focus much attention on the story that our groups tell in the way that they actually do group life. This is what makes group great. Well it's also what makes a group bleh. Let me suggest four stories that groups tell. This is a basic summary of what I've written in Missional Small Groups (a book for small group leaders) and in MissioRelate (a book for small group champions and pastors).

Personal Improvement
This is the small group experience where individuals participate because it is personally beneficial. The people involved are either drawn to a topic or to a group of people like themselves, and participation is high until it becomes inconvenient. Nothing in their personal life is required to change to participate in this kind of group.  
Key distinctive: People attend as long as it benefits them.

Lifestyle Adjustment
This story is a continuation of the first. The group is viewed as beneficial, and therefore the group members are willing to adjust their life schedules to prioritize the attendance of a weekly or bi-weekly meeting. There is usually a longer-term commitment to group membership, but not much more than that. In fact, this story usually plays out in such a way that small group members attend meetings until they hit a time of conflict or struggle in the relationships within the group. While they adjust their lifestyle to prioritize a regularly scheduled small group meeting, they typically do not adjust their lives to make room to work through relational issues unearthed within a group. As a result, they either stop attending; attend meetings but in a way that is disengaged; or look for another similar group comprised of people with more compatible views and personalities.  
Key distinctive: People make slight adjustments to prioritize a regular meeting as a group.

Relational Re-vision
While the move from the first story to the second was a continuous progression, the move to this third is discontinuous. This story requires intentional practice. The facts are clear: the habits of the average person in North America are so contrary to a life of mutual love and self-sacrifice that if a group does not choose to practice a distinctively Christian way of life, nothing radical and Kingdom-like will be experienced. The Relational Re-vision story is only told as a group develops a new set of rhythms. Here is where a group discovers distinctively Christian practices like:
  • Worship
  • Encountering the presence of God together
  • Communion
  • Hospitality
  • Mutual generosity
  • Making Time for each other
  • Engaging the neighborhood
Key distinctive: The group is learning how to live in community with one another that stands in contrast to typical pattens of life.

Missional Re-creation
As groups begin to practice these rhythms and gain proficiency in them, a group will explore new ways of creative existence. They will engage the neighborhood and determine needs, meet those needs, and as a result, that experience will change how they exist as a group. Some will develop into house churches of 50. Others meet in groups of 5 meeting at a coffee shop. Others will adopt a home for mentally challenged individuals. And still others will come around a family that lives in a mindset of poverty and walk with them into a new way of being. The key is not the form that it takes, but the maturity of living out the practices that are introduced in Relational Re-Vision. Missional Re-creation flows out of a set of practices into an unpredictable structural future.
Key distinctive: Creative manifestations of life that are having organic impact upon the world around the group.

What is the story of your group?

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