Missional Communities, Midsize Groups, and Sunday School

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One of the current grouplife trends is being called a missional community by many.  The idea that a group ought to exist for something beyond its own spiritual fulfillment, that it ought to exist to make a difference, to sort of live beyond itself and have impact in the community…is a definite trend.  The essence of the trend is that a win for each group becomes to identify and live out a mission in their community.

One of the first churches that publicly rearranged the way their ideal group would operate was Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The Church of Irresistible Influence, a book by Robert Lewis (the senior pastor of FBC at the time the book was written), tells the story of their small group philosophy.  At its essence it was that every group would find a way to serve together.

LifeChurch.tv is another well-known example of a church that rearranged their philosophy to put a stake in the ground and say that a healthy group would be one that finds a way to serve together in the community.

At present, a number of influential churches are embracing the grouplife philosophy that healthy groups exist to make a difference beyond their own personal spiritual growth.  A few of these churches are connecting the idea that a midsize group, often a combination of several small groups in one neighborhood or around one common passion, can have greater impact.  Seacoast Church is an example of this idea and is taking its initial steps in this direction.

Austin Stone is another influential church that has made a definite move in the missional group direction, incorporating into their grouplife curriculum an intentional identification of a third space to hang out in, taking the group away from the comforts of home and placing it in the midst of the community.  Gateway Church in Austin has begun forming midsize groups to allow easier connection in a slightly larger gathering.

The missional community, in some instances incorporating the power of a midsize group, is a current grouplife trend.  Does it sound “a lot like Sunday School?”  Hardly.  Largely convening off-campus, in the communities they seek to impact and influence, they’re not primarily for the purpose of “teaching.”  Rather, in most cases the churches that are moving in this direction are seeking to leverage the upside of a slightly larger gathering, grouped around a common passion (i.e., serving the under-resourced in a challenging neighborhood).

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  1. Bobby Totino on February 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Mark…you are so right. We are experiencing some of the same things. We have groups that are thriving in the 15 to 20 range and other groups who are really gathering steam by becoming missional: a small group with a purpose. Way to go.

  2. Anonymous on February 10, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Thanks for jumping in Bobby! Keep us posted on how things develop.


  3. Shawn Wood on February 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm


    Great post. This is a movement that is making the church a missional force in the world as it should be. One thing that I think is missed by many however is what Mike Breen and the folks at http://www.weare3dm.org would call a “huddle”. This would be the smaller sized discipleship group that feeds the leaders of the missional communities. With this in place a missional community has a much needed discipleship dimension. We are seeing the huddle as a very important piece at Seacoast – in fact we are calling this “the year of the huddle”.

    I think your readers would find Mike Breens work on these subject quite helpful as well.

  4. Anonymous on February 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Funny you should mention Mike Breen…he’s up with a two part interview next week on that very topic! Good catch, Shawn!