The Four Stories of Small-Group Life

Exploring the differences between "traditional" and "missional" communities

Note: This article has been excerpted from Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the World, by M. Scott Boren.

While reflecting on the various stories I know from small groups and the various rhythms that produced them, I recognized four different stories within small-group life. These stories help us understand how missional groups are distinct from the normal groups that are so predominant in our churches today. The stories are connected to the lift rhythms we play in our culture. As we look into these stories, we will see how "Pat" is affected as the rhythms played by the group change.

The first two stories are taken from normal small groups that seem to operate relatively easily in our fast-paced FedEx life, while the last two invite us into a way of living that stands in contrast to the patterns of our culture. These last two stories help us grasp what it means to live in missional community.

The Story of Personal Improvement

Small groups that live out this story play rhythms that sound something like this:

We get together because life is tough in this world and we need a few friends. It is not always convenient for us to meet every week, but we do meet when we can. Usually we meet in short six- or seven-week periods or we meet a couple times a month. We get together, talk a bit about God or study the Bible, and share what is going on at work and in our family. I am not sure that we are close, but it is good to have a place where we can share a little about what is going on in our lives. Being in my small group has improved my life.

This kind of group provides an opportunity for people to improve the normal rhythms of their normal lives. For instance, Pat might attend a small group because it is a place that helps him manage the circles in his life a little better. Little or even nothing about the rhythms of Pat's life changes except the fact that he attends a small group when it is convenient.

In this story, the focus lies on whether the group is beneficial to Pat's life. Pat attends if he likes the people, if the group leader is competent, and if the material is about a topic in which Pat is inter-ested. Such group experiences are often better than nothing. People feel supported, taste a sip of love, or learn a bit about the Bible.

But this is far from the only story about small group life.

The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment

The rhythms played by a small group in this story sound like this:

This group has become a priority to us. We have adjusted our schedules to meet together at least every other week, but usually we meet weekly. In our meetings, we either study the sermon preached by our pastor or use a Bible study guide that we all find personally beneficial. We truly enjoy each other's presence, and we put a high priority on the group and the members in the group. We even do something social once each month. We rise to the occasion when someone has a need, and there is a sense that we are friends.

When Pat enters this story, it requires some adjustment to his life rhyths. Group life is not just added on top of all the other stuff Pat does. Room has been made in his weekly schedule for this group of people because the meeting is a priority and the group members have become friends. There is usually a range of adjustment here. Some might simply choose to not work overtime so they can get to the group meeting on time, while others plan a social outing or host the meeting. Usually the biggest change involves social priorities.

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