by Austin Maxheimer
Since small groups burst onto the American church landscape as a popular movement forty years ago, we’ve seen many culture shifts that call for us to revisit and shift the way we look at small groups today. We can never forget that small groups themselves are not the end, but rather the means of connecting people to Christ-centered community and connecting those communities to a relationship with God.
In my role as the Director of Groups at One Life Church, these are the current cultural realities we examined and the subsequent shifts we introduced to our leaders.
- Loss of Authority.
Christians can no longer turn to “The Bible says” as an authoritative voice in our popular culture and expect it to carry the same weight it did forty years ago. Appeals to God are received negatively as, “Who are you to project your beliefs on me!” More troubling, even inside churches, this view has eroded the surety of the authority of Scripture and God as the author of life.
- Loss of the Center.
The Church no longer has the market cornered in community. Anyone with access to the Internet can find a tribe that aligns with their passions and desires and affirms their behavior. It can be around microbrews, Xbox games, parenting styles, whatever; there is a ready-made community for you to belong to. Christianity is no longer the center of society; it is simply another option—one that frankly is rarely attractive to outsiders.
- Loss of Purpose.
Precisely because the church has been lost as an overarching authority for life and cultural center, there is a void of meaning and purpose. We are forced to create our own purpose. We are exposed to the massive heaps of problems in the world, hold a desire to see justice, but lack a foundation to act from. This creates a weight on individuals that eventually crushes them personally or paralyzes action.
These developments should not be discouraging for leaders within the church. Rather, they provide opportunities for us to make a shift in how we view Christian community. And it starts with small groups.
Ministry Shifts to Address Our Cultural Realities
- Creatively Communicate the Gospel: We have to get back to knowing how to communicate the Good News of Jesus.
This includes knowing the whole story of God, the story of the people you live with/around/among, and then helping people see where Christ breaks in to redeem and fulfill those stories. While people may be “allergic to authority,” they long for a narrative to bring cohesion to life—and the Church just happens to have the best one you could possible tell. Imagine an entire community of God’s people able to communicate the beauty of the Gospel. To get to this ideal state, we have to move beyond Bible study to actually learning, working on, and practicing to communicate the Gospel when we gather.
- Incarnationally Invitational: We have to become the invitation for others to experience Jesus by our faithful presence in our communities as the body of Christ.
We cannot only invite them into our church and to our events. We have to go to theirs. The church calendar should include, at least in part, the city calendar. There’s been a positive movement toward incarnational presence, but it often drifts toward individual expression. Your friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens need to experience the Church (the PEOPLE).
- Mission Teams: We have to incorporate the Mission of God into every aspect of our Christian communities.
There is a growing awareness of the need to move Christians from a consumerist mindset (receiving church) to a missionary mindset (being the church). This is important not only because it is a proper view of our relationship with God, but also because it so critically speaks into our cultural moment. God provides the Church with the ultimate meaning and purpose—a hope and motivation that will never fade. There is a resolution for the problems of the world, and we have the awesome opportunity to be partners in the restoration. Small groups of Christians aligning and acting with the will of God have revolutionized societies and cultures before, and they can do so again.