The Missing Ingredient
Things got exciting around our congregation this summer. Two things happened specifically with our youth group. First of all, they went on a mission trip to Logan County, WV to work with Disaster Relief Services in the wake of the floods of this spring. It was a great trip where they worked hard, often under difficult conditions. The second thing that happened was even more unusual. Plastic flamingos began appearing in front yards throughout our community. The technical term for this is “flocking.” It started in our congregation and then expanded. People paid $1 per flamingo to flock friends or family. The victims could then make a donation to have the flamingos removed. No one had more fun with this than our youth group.
So what does this have to do with small groups and discipleship? These two activities represent something that is often conspicuously absent from our small groups. Most of the time our groups gather for fellowship and Bible study. We support and pray for each other and gain new information about God, His word, and the Christian life. These activities are critical to the life and purpose of small groups. Yet after over 10 years of working with and leading small groups, I’ve seen one huge area of need: groups often lack a purpose beyond themselves. There is nothing to push them beyond the homes in which they gather. There is very little movement beyond the group itself.
Contrast this with what our youth group did this summer. The flockings were an amazing team builder. The kids, along with our youth director, would enter front yards in clandestine fashion and plunk down flamingos under cover of darkness. This required stealth and teamwork. The element of danger was present. They were on nightly missions - comrades in flocking. By the time the mission trip rolled around an amazing chemistry had developed. This chemistry transcended popularity because they were all in it together. The mission trip was another goal that was bigger than individuals in the group. What it lacked in danger and adventure, it made up for in meaning and the opportunity to do something great. After meeting as a group throughout the year for Bible study and fellowship, this group found its stride by going out on mission and serving.
Benefits of Mission
I would like to suggest that our small groups need an infusion of mission. After meeting for two or three years even the best groups can stagnate. They can become ingrown. Mission is the missing ingredient that can prevent that from ever happening. When people get out of their comfort zones on mission, they begin to realize their need for community in a new way. Author and missiologist Alan Hirsch uses the term communitas to describe this phenomenon. Communitas is a much richer form of fellowship than what we usually experience. Community is an inward-focused fellowship. It is the product of a group that is intentional about meeting its own needs. Communitas, on the other hand, is generated by going out of your normal pattern to serve others. No one sets out to get this kind of fellowship. It is the necessary result of taking a risk to serve and meet the needs of others. Community works for people who are alike. Communitas can bind together diverse people because the mission is more important than the people in the group.
There are other benefits of adding mission to small groups too. Not everyone is cut out to sit in a living room or around a table and share insightful answers to discussion questions. Those with extensive Bible knowledge and good communications skills quickly become the more valued members of a group. When mission and service are integrated into the life of the group, suddenly the mechanic who has a hard time expressing his thoughts on spiritual matters is indispensible. He can school the Bible scholars on how to repair drywall or clear a drain. Mission levels the playing field. All the spiritual gifts are valued.
How have you seen mission take your small group to a new level? What kinds of things have you tried as a group that were out of your comfort zone? Perhaps by sharing some ideas that have worked we can encourage each other toward a deeper level of small group ministry.