GroupLife Philosophy for the 21st Century

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6607644933_d1ce033668_zDisclosure: Depending on your own bias or bent, you might read this rant as either heresy, confirmation that I’ve lost it, or maybe something worth sharing with your team.

To start with, at some level I believe the missional community strategy and the current discipleship emphasis are both needed and smokescreens at the same time (I’ve wrestled quite a bit over this sentence).

Why?  Just give me a few minutes.  Trust me…I’m sure we’ll have a lot to argue about.

First, I am more and more convinced that as we move deeper into the 21st century, it will become more and more likely that the front door of the Church in America will shift from the auditorium to the home.

Every indicator is screaming that we are rapidly moving in this direction.  From Gabe Lyon’s The Next Christiansthe widening 60% that are unreachable with the attractional model, and Barna’s recent study on the arrival of post-Christianity…let’s just say, we are not in Kansas anymore (even if you are in Kansas…you are probably already seeing the signs too).

Second, I am coming to believe the missional community strategy is mostly needed in churches whose weekend services are primarily designed for believers.  Even excluding fortress churches (where Christians huddle, isolating themselves from the evils of the world, sending their children to their church’s Christian school, etc.), it’s my belief that a high percentage of the members of believer focused churches don’t know their neighbors and don’t have friends at work (perhaps acquaintances, but not friends).

In that kind of environment, missional communities make a lot of sense.

On the flip side, in most of the churches I’ve served, where the weekend service is designed to be an inviting experience for friends and neighbors (attractional), it is very common for members to both know their neighbors and have friends at work.  See also, Do You Know about This Game-Changing Connection Secret.

Third, the discipleship emphasis is needed but should never be seen as an invitation to a more intensive program.  Rather, a small group is only the optimum environment for life-change if it is about becoming like Christ.  When I look back at my own grouplife journey, my understanding is very much formed by Willow Creek’s small group ministry mission statement (circa early 90s):

“To connect people relationally in groups of 6 to 10, where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.” (I might be off by a word or two, but you get the idea)

Discipleship is an expectation.  “Where they can grow in Christ.”  It isn’t an add-on or an elective.

Finally, here are the assumptions that underpin my grouplife philosophy:

  1. The small group is the optimum environment for life-change.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  2. Groups that are welcoming to neighbors and friends will increasingly become the front door to the Church in the 21st century.  See also, Open Groups, Closed Groups, and Specialized Groups.
  3. Whatever you want group members to experience has to happen in the life of the leader first.  See also, What Is the Role of the Coach?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Susana Fernandez

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  1. Daniel Im on May 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for your thoughts Mark! I think a key way of drawing from the strengths of the missional community movement and the small group movement, is by looking to mid-size communities! I wrote posts on Rick Howerton’s website and also on mine about this. I’d love to talk to you about it.,-My-Interview

  2. markchowell on May 25, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for jumping in here, Daniel! I saw your posts on Rick’s blog. Very informative.

  3. t. on May 28, 2013 at 5:46 am

    Mark, I have a very simplistic question, not related to the small group missional community topic here, but on my mind nevertheless. Do you believe Sunday School still serves a purpose in churches today?

  4. markchowell on May 28, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Hi T…thanks for jumping in here. Your question is probably not as simple as you might think. I assume you’re asking primarily about adult Sunday school. The potential effectiveness of every Sunday school class can and should be evaluated. In my opinion, they are most effective when the essential ingredients of life-change are present ( They are much less effective when they are primarily a smaller version of the weekend service (i.e., listening to announcements, singing together, listening to a master teacher, listening to a prayer together, etc.).


  5. Daniel Im on May 30, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks Mark – it’s great to be serving the wider church through these thought processes.