If we “net it out” for the communal life of the church, it would include 3 core practices: the creation of authentic relationships, the pursuit of spiritual growth, and the focus on a common mission or purpose. In recent history, the church at large has typically emphasized one of these three. In the 40s and 50s, an emphasis on the mission dominated. Christians returning from WWII now had a burden for taking the message around the globe, and great evangelistic ministries were birthed or expanded.
Then in the 60s and 70s, disciple-making ministries were peaking on college campuses and beginning to impact the local church as well. Small groups became a way for people to grow in the faith and find wisdom for life. Then in the 80s, the seeker movement burst onto the scene, bringing evangelistic passion back to the local church. In the 1990s, evangelicals became reacquainted with the spiritual practices and disciplines used throughout church history—spiritual depth and growth were emphasized once again.
Now, as we move into the second decade of the new millennium and emerging church leaders find their voices, it appears that there is a convergence taking place. The church is more intentional about integrating the missional, relational, and formational aspects of community—and group life in the local church is at the vortex.
Groups of various sizes and shapes are rediscovering the power of community when all three of these elements are present. Life-giving communities foster real relationships, pursue spiritual growth together, and seek to fulfill a God-honoring mission. This “convergence” of these core essentials, rediscovered in recent decades, makes this era of church life exciting and challenging. No longer can we be content with primarily an evangelistic emphasis or to focus on personal growth or to make everything about relationships.
Effective groups—the kind that Jesus modeled and led—embrace the fullness of the Trinitarian community: the Father’s heart for the poor and the lost, Christ’s love for his body, the church, and the Spirit’s power in transformation. It’s a powerful combination in any group that gathers in the name of Jesus.
And more than ever, it’s time has come…again!