There is a segment of the "small group" movement that bothers me and I'm not sure if it should. See if you can pick up on it below and tell me what your take is.
SYMPTOM #1: I attended the highly-touted missional community conference VERGE 2010 this weekend in Austin and there were some wonderful speakers and great thought-starters. In all, one of the best conferences I've ever been to. But I noticed one thing: I would guestimate that 75% (or more) of the attenders fit this exact demographic: male, white, college-educated. An only slightly smaller percentage also used Macs, wore Rob Bell glasses and drank Starbucks, but we won't get into that. What's more, every expert-in-the-field speaker was male and either White or Asian.
SYMPTOM #2: This is now the third church I've worked for that has a heavy concentration of what I'll call "people on the margins" — homeless, addicts, non-heterosexual ... you get the idea. It also has a heavy concentration of less-than-educated white folks. Not bad people, just not what you'd call "intellectuals".
THE PROBLEM: Every church I've ever seen missional small groups work in (I mean really work in) has fit the "symptom #1" crowd. Rarely, if ever, have I seen small groups really work amongst the "symptom #2" crowd. That bothers me because if I read the Gospels right, "symptom #2" people were precisely Jesus' kind of people. I recognize that most of the CRC probably falls into the former crowd, but I think we really need some thinking on this.
For instance, I heard Hugh Halter (a highly respected "missional" guy) at VERGE say that anyone who didn't want to do their "TK Primer", which is an intensive, missional 8-week study would be advised that there were other churches in town that might be better suited to them. One of the first churches listed on his website is "Scum of the Earth Church", a great church in urban Denver that reaches out to "symptom #2" people. And I know, rationally, that small groups and missional communities are just a model and that, theoretically, they would work for anyone who is willing. But practically, its hard to sit in a small group where 3 people with masters degrees are trying to have a conversation with 2 people who didn't graduate high school.
I know — I've done it! It's hard to get homeless people to show up to a once-a-week small group because they often spend the night fending for their lives or running from the police. And if the answer is that we need to start splitting people up based on socio-economic levels, we might as well throw in the towel. So I'm honestly confused — how do we rectify a system (missional communities/small groups) that is great, but rarely works for "the least of these" with a Savior who prioritized "the least of these"?