Small Groups and the Missional Renaissance (pt. 1)

Small Groups and the Missional Renaissance (pt. 1)

What is God doing through the missional church, and how do small groups fit in?

Note: This article is Part One of a two-part interview. Click here to see the second half of this discussion.

SmallGroups.com: One the first page of the introduction to Missional Renaissance, it says "The rise of the missional church is the single biggest development in Christianity since the Reformation." That was intriguing to me. Can you flesh that out a little bit?

Reggie McNeal: It's interesting. I've made that comment to Lutheran pastors, and they don't even argue with me—they own the Reformation! What I'm seeing, in terms of the confluence of various forces and a recasting of the expression of the church and the world, I think that what we are undergoing currently is the largest recasting of that since Reformation times, and it's happening worldwide.

The missional church, in my opinion, is being informed by practices and by the work of God really that started overseas. Most Americans think the USA is God's only zip code, but as you well know we're in the backwaters of the Christian movement here on the planet today. And so it's really something that started where we're seeing a Day of Pentecost every hour. And then as it came to America, we tried to distill out some of the learnings and some of the key DNA of that, and then it got tagged as "missional."

It really is an expansion of what we think the church looks like, all the way from house churches to mega-churches. And so that's why I call it the biggest development, because I think it has the most far-reaching implications—both in terms of structure and how the church sees itself and what we think the church is. It's not just methodology. It goes to the core of the church's being, much like the Reformation did.

Your book is centered on three "shifts" in our current thinking. Can you briefly explain these changing ways of thinking?

Yes. Almost everyone gets the first one. It's the shift from an internal to an external focus in ministry. When we think about "missional," almost everyone thinks about running out and painting a school or fixing up some park or something. The problem, of course, is that if that's just an activity layered on top of our other activities, then their really hasn't been a profound shift in focus—just a shift in activity. Being missional moves us from internal concerns to external concerns. We start every question not with "What are we doing here," but "What is our impact out there."

The second shift is enormous, and it is the hardest one. It's the shift from a program-driven culture to a people-development culture. And this is in terms of the core activity of the church. You and I have grown up and lived our lives in the program church. We know how to do programs. In fact, we think of church as a collection of programs. Even worship and religious education, our missions program—these are all programs.

I was in Dallas last week and one of the churches I'm working with was in the dead center of Hurricane Ike. And the lead pastor there made such a great observation. He said, "You know, Reggie, we discovered when we had no building to go to that we couldn't have activities. We were without power ten days. We suddenly all came to a stunning realization that we pastor programs and not people, because we didn't know what to do with ourselves." And he said, "So we decided that we would go hang out with people and see what happens." And of course, that's the point.

A lot of people that entered ministry to make a difference in people's lives wind up being project managers and program directors. It's not that programs are evil; they've just become the substitute activity for the real deal. We assume that if people participate in programs, they fall out the other end as fully devoted followers of God. But of course the Reveal study has cast a new light on that kind of thinking.

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