When a young couple comes to our church looking to be “plugged in” to one of our missional communities or “villages” (which they assume are set up like small groups in the churches they have been to before), I ask them to consider the hundreds of people in their neighborhoods who may need a true friend. Then I pose this question: “What do you think about letting God help you become a place of belonging for others instead of you just looking for another place to belong?” Some people love this and admit that they’ve always wanted to take this challenge seriously; they truly wish they could begin to reach out to those already in their circle of relationships or neighborhood.
But not everyone understands the difference. Missional communities have, well, a “mission”: to create belonging for others beyond themselves. Small groups don’t. In order to create belonging, these incarnational communities force people to deal with their own issues of individualism, consumerism, and materialism as they interact with others potentially unlike themselves. Small groups don’t. Most importantly, incarnational communities have a mission together for those outside the faith. Small groups usually don’t.
Old school small groups place an empty chair in the middle of the room and pray that God would fill it. But a kingdom-minded community of friends, intent on living like Jesus, will choose together to seek those who mourn and place chairs for themselves among the lonely, hurting, and broken.
Hugh Halter, Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus, ed. Alan Hirsch, The Shapevine Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 91–92.