Looking for a way to build a more externally focused edge to your small group ministry? M. Scott Boren’s Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the World is a great place to start.
I have to admit, I was a little wary when I picked it up. Probably because I read and review books and curriculum from a wide range of grouplife philosophies, I’m aware that there are times when the commentary can be somewhat elitist (i.e., “my philosophy or strategy is the only right way to do it”). I read none of that here. Instead, what I found was 180 pages of some of the most practical ideas I’ve seen anywhere. Very refreshing!
One of the aspects that I really found to be particularly helpful is his sense that there are “four different stories within small group life.”
- The Story of Personal Improvement: “This kind of group provides an opportunity for people to improve the normal rhythms of their normal lives (p. 39).” I call this a toe-in-the-water experience. Not a deep commitment. More of a test drive. I’m trying it on for size to see if I like it.
- The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment: “While the Improvement story is about convenience, the Adjustment story is usually about commitment to formal gatherings (p. 40).” I think this is often what happens after a church-wide campaign. Test-drive groups that love it and agree to continue meeting grow to love each other and grow in their commitment to the group.
- The Story of Relational Revision: “The basic element to this story is that a group of people is intentionally learning to do life together differently (p. 41).” Groups that are intentional about making disciples often add a small group agreement, spiritual partners and accountability.
- The Story of Missional Re-creation: In these groups “the gospel comes to life and the rhythms of the kingdom begin to create something spontaneous, unexpected, and unpredictable (p. 44).” The need for structure (agreements and spiritual partners) decreases as the elements you are trying to build in become second nature.
Although Boren is describing a kind of progressive movement toward missional re-creation (he refers to the first two stories as “normal” groups), you won’t find an indication that only the fourth story matters. Instead, you find a wise prescription for helping “normal” groups (what Boren calls at least the first two stories) learn to take steps that move them toward participation in “God’s mission in the world.”
While the first part of the book is very important and gives a very helpful frame of reference, the second half is packed with nearly a hundred pages of practices you can experiment with and adopt in your small group ministry. There’s enough here to help your small groups move skillfully in a new direction.
Finally, the appendix includes a 13 step pattern for a missional experiment. The first 12 steps can be done over a 12 to 15 week period. The final step allows the group to determine what happens next and begin to operate in a way that makes the new rhythms natural.
Missional Small Groups is a book that could be influential no matter the strategy or philosophy you’ve chosen. I’ll be using it to suggest some new patterns for groups that are ready and need to move beyond business as usual.
You can read more of my book reviews right here.