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The Shift Exercise: Getting Your Small Group on Mission

by Austin Maxheimer

I’m the Groups Director at our church, but more importantly, I’m a group leader. Every week I gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ and imperfectly pursue worship, love, and compassion together in community. What I have found in the leadership of my group and our church’s groups is that worship and love are the more natural activities for groups. There is an expectation that we will study and discuss together. There is an expectation that we will grow relationally and serve each other. Now whether those expectations are met or not is another post!

What does not come so naturally is the compassion side—both serving in the community and being missionally present in the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. We may see our group as a place to spur each other on toward individual lives of mission once we depart, but we rarely think of being a people of mission together.

This is what encouraged us to write From Couch to Community: Activating the Potential of Small Groups. However, once we got done writing the book, we realized that we were guilty of precisely what I complain frequently about as a group leader: “I understand the ideology and agree with the call…Now give me some practical tools!” For all the talk of being missional, there are relatively few helpful resources to help me get my group on mission.

So we created a tool we titled “The Shift Exercise” to help our groups shift from the couch to the community, to provide practical steps to take you into the mission field where you live.


We wanted to make it available for you and your group: THE SHIFT EXERCISE.

In it you will find:

  • A 28-day Bible reading plan to discover the mission of God, with reflection questions
  • Group exercise and discussion questions
  • Examples of groups on mission

The six weeks cover:

(1) How can you live your mission?

(2) Why shift—where are we going?

(3) Understanding the potential of groups

(4) The value of groups on mission

(5) Solidifying your mission statement

(6) Creating your goals

When we led our groups through this, we learned many things, both successes and failures. Those learnings were different corporately as a church body and for individual groups. If you’d like to hear about what we learned in our larger church context, please contact me (@austinmaxheimer) and I can share our experience. But here are four quick learnings or words of warning if you do indeed decide to take your group through the Shift Exercise:

  1. As you focus on mission, don’t forsake fellowship. For many of our groups, there was an overreaction toward the activities of mission and a forgetting of intentional community. It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and, and a balance you have to find.
  1. The exercise works best informed by Scripture. Don’t forget to do the reading plan as you go through the exercise. In fact, you can turn the 6-week study into a 10-week one if you spend the first four weeks going through the study and discussing it during group time.
  1. KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. We had several groups get overly bogged down in the mission statement and goals (weeks 5-6). Those were just tools to help those who would like to utilize them. If you find yourself stuck, throw it overboard and ask simple questions: (1) How are we helping each other experience Jesus? (2) How can we help others experience Jesus?
  1. Don’t ever forget that this is not what you are called to do but who you are called to be. We are to be gospel-transformed people. If you get through the Shift Exercise and see only a bunch of stuff to do, then you have missed the mark. Hit pause or reset. Move forward only when you see yourselves as a people of mission, sent by a God of mission, into his arena of mission.



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