In my last post, we saw how missional communities and small groups are similar in some very obvious ways. However, it is crucial that we recognize the real differences between them. Without the following distinctives, “missional community” will just become another moniker for “small group.” If we are truly going to lead missional communites, then we must remain intentional about the elements that set them apart from small groups. Please keep in mind that the following comparisons are referring to small groups in generalizations. I understand that some small groups are intentional about the elements that we will discuss below, and may function more like what we would term a missional community.
Missional communities differ from small groups because their primary means of making disciples is mission, not Bible study. We are good at spiritually developing those who already believe. We talk about life, pray for one another, and read the Bible together. All of these contribute to spiritual growth and each of them is an absolute necessity. Where small groups often stumble, however, is their lack of focus on mission. We are defining “mission” as living our lives in a way that intentionally displays the gospel and engages with unbelievers.
“Disciples discipling disciples” (hope that’s not confusing!) comes easy to us. But let’s be honest – most of us really struggle with allowing mission to flow into all areas of our lives. We like to discuss the things of God with other believers, but when it comes to having spiritual conversations with unbelievers, we struggle at best and fail more often than not. Most of our small groups have the same problem! Other believers will come all the livelong day, but we stink at engaging unbelievers.
When Bible study is our group’s goal, we often get more scriptural knowledge, well-equipped believers, and some spiritual growth – all great things – but not meant to be ends in and of themselves. In our missional communities, spiritual development will happen. We will spur one another toward love and good deeds. We will bear one another’s burdens and lift one another up in prayer. We will seek to understand God’s Word together. But on top of all of this, we will seek to be on mission together.
- We will intentionally pray for those we know who need the gospel.
- We will intentionally look for opportunities for our group to tangibly minister to people.
- We will intentionally create natural gatherings to which we can comfortably invite others into our community.
Our discipleship will be focused on those who are not yet disciples and, in the process, we will experience incredible leaps in the faith and spiritual development of our fellow believers.
Missional communities differ from small groups by intentionally seeking to include unbelievers, not just other Christians. Let me re-emphasize again that I am speaking in generalities. Some of you are probably great at inviting your lost friends, neighbors, and co-workers to be part of your small group, and we applaud and encourage that.
But most are not.
And I can totally understand why! In South Florida, many people will look at you like you’re covered in feathers if you ask them to wake up early on their day off, get their family dressed up, drop their kids off with a bunch of unreasonably happy strangers, and sit in a circle with you and your “church” friends in some building that looks, smells, and feels like the bowels of a hospital.
Maybe that’s not your situation. Maybe you’re asking them to get home from a long day of work, spend a half-hour looking for their dust-riddled Bible, pay a babysitter to watch their kids, curse their GPS while trying to find some stranger’s home, all so they can come and sit on the floor of your friend’s living room while you read a book they really don’t understand and pray to a God who they’re not even sure exists.
Ok, that was kind of harsh – and maybe a bit exaggerated. But you get the point. Without even realizing it, we often ask unbelievers to do some very awkward and very uncomfortable things – things that seem so normal to many of us. What if we put ourselves in their shoes? What if we were intentional about creating scenarios and situations that made it easy and natural to invite them to come join us?
- A neighborhood BBQ
- A card night
- A ball game
- A pool party
- Dinner at a family-friendly restaurant
This seems so obvious, right? Then why aren’t we more intentional about doing it? Missional communities look for natural opportunities in the flow of our lives to which we can invite unbelievers to observe and experience our Christian fellowship. Each month we will plan events where we can naturally and comfortably invite coworkers, neighbors, friends, etc.
We will be intentionally missional.
Let’s start neighborhood movements where we as a “small group” are being intentional about becoming friends with unbelievers. Let’s be genuinely great friends to them. Let’s work to gain their trust. Let’s learn to love their families and bless them as we’re able. Let’s show them what a Christian community is really like. Let’s invite them to experience what the church is outside the walls of a sanctuary.
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Look, I wish we didn’t need “missional communities.”
I hope that one day we will not need to name our gatherings this way. I pray that we will become a church with “mission” so ingrained in who we are that we don’t need a reminder to go out of our way to be intentionally friendly. I pray that we will see all of our relationships as ordained by God, that we will recognize the circles of influence He has given each of us, and that we will be great stewards of those relationships and the influence that comes along with them.
I pray that instead of being people who are part of a “missional” community, we would be “missional” people who are part of a community.