Note: This article has been excerpted from MissioRelate by M. Scott Boren.
I consulted a small church of 50 members in Pennsylvania that embarked upon a small group journey ten years before they contacted me for support. They hired me to assess why they were not growing. In our first discussions about their history, they shared the titles of books they initially read, promising spiritual and numeric growth, relational evangelism, and "success" if they launched small groups. A decade later, they remain a congregation of less than 50 but didn't know why they had not grown numerically.
During my initial visit, I found a few things they could do differently to grow larger in numbers. More than any other discoveries for improvement, I found that they were doing a lot of things right. There was so much good going on in this small church! Sadly, it was all hidden beneath the discouragement that resulted by asking the common, normal questions about their small groups.
So I asked a different set of questions oriented around MissioRelate. I discovered that group members were actually sharing life together; they were counting the cost of being in relationships that mattered; they were investing in people who did not know Jesus and helping them find the cross and then Lordship; they were involved in their communities, shared their lives with the poor; and they practiced simplicity and mutual sharing. When I entered with MissioRelate questions, I found small seeds of something awesome, yet the church and groups were not seeing the explosive growth promised in all the small group literature.
This church is practicing an alternative way of being the church, a way that stands in stark contrast from our culture and from the "easy believism" found in many churches in their area that are experiencing numeric growth. What they've developed over the last ten years is beautiful, but it does not fit conventional expectations. They are a mustard seed movement of something different, a remnant that is now asking far more powerful questions and is forming a grass roots movement of group life that moves beyond small group structures and numbers.
I've identified 21 different practices that groups can do to promote mission. I break these practices into three basic rhythms, which I call Missional Communion, Missional Relating, and Missional Engagement.
In the book, The Tangible Kingdom, the authors write of rhythms of communion, rhythms of community, and rhythms of mission. The use of such language implies that rhythms of communion and community are meant for the life of insiders and the rhythms of mission are the things that the insiders do for outsiders. In my experience, I have found that such a distinction does not match reality. Some of the most missional things that we do as groups are praying together and sharing food with one another. The way we relate to God and one another is not simply insider ministry. It is indeed missional. Consider Jesus' prayer, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson from The Message:
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I give them,
So they'll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they'll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you've sent me and loved them
In the same way you've loved me. (John 17:18-23)