3 Alternatives to Missional Communities: Small Groups
Small groups have been around for decades now and have been adopted at some level by most churches. When you hear a presentation about missional communities, you will usually hear that MCs are not small groups. MCs differ in terms of size (20 -50 for MCs 8 – 15 for small groups) and purpose. MCs are community formed around mission. Small groups can serve a lot of purposes.
Let me start by saying that a lot of the missional critique around small groups is valid. They are typically fellowship driven with a goal of connecting people relationally to the church. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t make disciples. Small groups with this purpose can be used effectively however. They are a low commitment and highly relational structure. This is great in churches that are looking for ways to quickly connect people relationally. The low bar makes entry non-threatening and be a great first step for someone new to the church or new to faith. The spiritual journey just can’t end there. The relational only groups need to be temporary in someone’s spiritual journey.
But small groups are essentially a structure and don’t inherently come with a purpose. One of the best books out there on small groups structure and how to administrate a small groups ministry is Nelson Searcy’s Activate. Many are turned off by Searcy’s endless email marketing, but don’t let that distract you from the great content in this book. The structure of small groups is valid one for discipleship. What is lacking in most small groups is the discipleship component.
There is a network of churches that are making disciples effectively with small groups. It is the relational discipleship network. (Note: As of writing the site is down.) The network trains leaders to capitalize on the small group structure and gives them tools to be intentional about making disciples through relationships. I’ve been to a couple of the founding churches and can honestly say there is a DNA of discipleship there. Here is a white paper if you are interested in learning the details of their approach. Alternatively you can pick up a copy of the Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual: Equipping Disciples that Make Disciples.
It’s important to note the key features of this model of discipleship:
- There is a structure. In this case, the small group.
- There is intentionality at making disciples.
- Everyone is expected to be in a group.
- Everyone is expected to reproduce disciples. Discipleship isn’t just for the leaders, its for everyone.
- The group is externally focused. Whereas, MC teachers often say its all about mission, the relational discipleship guys say it all about discipleship. They are saying essentially the same thing. A compromise that both models would support is that the mission is discipleship.
- The group equips its members to make disciples.
The bottom line here is that if you want to make disciples and already have an existing small groups ministry, you may not have to kill it. You may just need to add the intentionality of making disciples. The encouraging news is that relationships are the environment where discipleship happens. If you’ve got small groups, you’ve got the environment. Start training your leaders to make disciples that make disciples and you’ll have a winning structure. I encourage you to take a look at the relational discipleship network. They will be doing a pre-conference intensive at Exponential that will be worth your time.
This is the second post of a series. The first post was “3 Reasons Why Missional Communities are not the only Discipleship Model.”
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