In the last post, we looked at community groups. The key point of transitioning to a “small group” happens as people’s conversations and prayers begin turning outwardly focused. They may begin by serving weekly at Sunday services or monthly in the city; either way they begin to see their community as a channel of God’s grace for others, not primarily for themselves.
A small group needs to cultivate practices and rhythms that intentionally facilitate time for making disciples.
As a community group begins to have a heart change, a small group emerges. A small group is often a starting point for some groups but usually follows a season of community group. The small-group stage typically lasts anywhere from a few months to a few years, again depending on the group participants and some other factors.
Rather than needing a change of heart, small groups need to work through practical challenges to be the missional communities that they desire. This season of group life typically lasts for three-to-nine months.
Once the honeymoon of a new group subsides and people know each other better, differences in personality, expectations, and maturity can create conflict. You may also deal with inconsistent attendance and dropouts in this stage.
Communities operating as small groups still have relationships forming, but in this season shared experiences, such as missional community training, a life crisis, or a fun experience, help the group cohere together. In some groups there are few natural barriers to their community and the group just clicks. Whether there is conflict or not, the purpose of the group shifts to both community and mission.
Main Obstacle to Mission
Whereas a community group has a “want-to” problem, a small group has a “how-to” problem when it comes to mission in the context of community. Generally, this group wants to make disciples but has never seen it modeled and are unsure of what it actually looks like.
Often the biggest obstacle in this stage is helping people understand that when they gather in different ways, not every person in the community needs to participate. Attempting to align all members’ schedules is nearly impossible. Curriculum and coaching are helpful in navigating this season of transition.
Main Coaching Point
A small group needs to cultivate practices and rhythms that intentionally facilitate time for making disciples. Practically, they need to spend time walking through how third place, the family meal, and life transformation groups (see here for an overview of our practices at The Austin Stone) could happen each month so they can turn their desires into action. We often coach small groups to find places where two-to-four people can gather and occasionally gather everyone in the community at more convenient times.
Often a group will try different gatherings a couple times then abandon them because they “didn’t work.” It’s so helpful to remind yourself as a leader that these practices rarely feel like a silver bullet. Healthy rhythms take time to develop.
Practically speaking, we suggest implementing Life Transformation Groups (or DNA Groups) first in the context of the regular meeting, allowing for modeling and people trying the format with many people. After that, try launching LTGs into a different meeting time, and then take that regular group meeting and intentionally work on gathering outside of the home in a third-place kind of environment. This staged approach helps a whole group adapt slowly throughout time.
Key Transition Point to Teams of Missionaries
The small group shifts as people put into practice rhythms that enable them to hang out with their friends far from God in natural ways. When a small group has actual names of people to pray for who aren’t Christians and those people start to show up in places with the community, they are headed in the right direction!
In the next post we’ll look at teams of missionaries.
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