As I started reading Missional Small Groups, my first impression was that it is not at all kitschy, catchy, or faddish. And I was so relieved!
After all, when it comes to Evangelical buzzwords, nothing gets more buzzy these days than "missional." (I think that word has been on the cover of more books this year than "leadership," if you can believe it!) For that reason, I figured it was only a matter of time before publishers began to connect the dots between small groups and the principles and ideas associated with the missional movement.
Really, it was inevitable that a book called Missional Small Groups would be published in 2010. Fortunately, thankfully, this book has been written by Scott Boren—a man who has been living, serving, and leading in missional ways long before the rest of us had any idea what "being missional" actually meant.
The book is divided into two sections: Listening and Practicing. The first section outlines the major ideas and principles behind Boren's vision for small-group life. Most helpful is Chapter 3, which describes four types of small groups that people may find themselves in (Boren refers to these types as "stories"):
- The Story of Personal Improvement. This is a small group at its most basic, where people attend out of a desire to make some friends and learn about God and the Bible. It is a consumer experience, for the most part.
- The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment. This is a continuation of Personal Improvement, where group members have become committed to the group as a major factor in their lives.
- The Story of Relational Revision. This story marks a shift from the first two, with the relationships between group members becoming a major priority, rather than the "group meeting" that happens once a week. Group members are beginning to "do life together," in other words.
- The Story of Missional Re-creation. The group has a mission to impact their community for the Kingdom of God, and that mission becomes a primary influence in the life of each member. This is a full-blown "missional small group."
(Click here to see an excerpt of this chapter on SmallGroups.com.)
Boren presents these four stories in such a way that the first two represent what he calls "normal" small-group life in most churches across the country. The latter two stories represent a new potential for what small groups could achieve in a missional way.
The second section of the book (Practicing) is a more practical exploration of different practices and activities that can help a "normal" small group move in a more missional direction. This includes three "Missional Rhythms," as Boren labels them:
- Missional Communion—practices of presence
- Missional Relating—practices of agape
- Missional Engagement—practices of engaging the community.
Each of these rhythms is given a chapter, and each chapter contains several "practices" of missional life (such as worship, pressing through conflict, speaking peace, and so on).
Many people who have led small groups for a long time can feel like they aren't accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish—and I count myself as part of that group. We recognize that small groups have the potential for something great and transformational, but we rarely see glimpses of life-change or deep interactions with the Holy Spirit.
One of the best things about Missional Small Groups is that it doesn't speak negatively about groups that are currently in The Story of Personal Improvement or The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment (groups that haven't shifted their thinking toward a missional approach, in other words). Boren acknowledges that most groups and group leaders across the country will fit into those two categories, and that they have value.
At the same time, the book offers practical, achievable steps that groups can take toward a deeper and more meaningful experience.
Another thing I appreciated about this book is that it does not come across as a "model" of small-groups ministry. The ideas and principles that Boren outlines can be applied to churches and small groups with a wide range of philosophies.
While the ideas, principles, and practices in this book are spot on, there are times when the actual pages can be a little difficult to read. Part of this is the presence of jargon words and scholarly ideas like "missional engagement" and "gospel rhythms," in addition to labels like "The Story of Relational Revision" and others listed above.
In addition, Boren uses an extended musical metaphor throughout the book. This includes exhortations for readers to listen to "God's drumbeat," efforts to explore the "rhythms" of life, and frequent references to how Christians "play our songs" in different areas of life. For me, this extended metaphor became confusing fairly quickly rather than making things easier to follow (which I believe was the intention).
That's a nit-picky criticism, I know, but I was a literature major back in school and sometimes we just can't help it. :)
If you are a small-groups pastor or staff person at a church that values small groups, then Missional Small Groups is a book you need to read. It will give you a lot to think about, and I think it will really help you provide a vision for "next steps" when it comes to group leaders in your church who may be looking for something more.
If you are one of those small-group leaders who is looking for something more, than this book is certainly a great place to start that exploration.
—Sam O'Neal; copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today International.