The short answer is that a missional community is not a Bible study, but a missional community studies the Bible.
A Bible study is often defined by gathering for the event of learning. The individuals who compose a missional community are individually engaging God’s Word on a daily basis—our church uses a tool we call Life Transformation Groups—and seeking to obey.
The distinction is primarily in expectations: a missional community expects that an individual is participating in the community to contribute something (1 Corinthians 14:26), whereas someone comes to a Bible study to consume something.
Certainly people need to study the Bible, but to study the Bible without engaging in authentic community on mission is a fool’s errand. The purpose of studying the Bible is indeed to learn about God and conform us to the image of Christ, but it’s also to equip us for the work of ministry in the church (community) and outside the church (mission).
If we desire compelling communities that foster obedience to the Bible, our community should be natural, neutral, and regular, in the pattern and rhythm of everyday life, not a one-hour, drive-through Bible study.
Practically speaking, most Bible studies need to think critically about how the information that they are studying affects their daily life AND specifically how they can share the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection with their friends and neighbors. Transitioning this kind of community requires gathering in different ways for different purposes.
Missional Communities vs. Small Groups
Small groups have been used in many great ways in the church over the last few decades. There are many different variations on small groups, but they are primarily groups of around 12 people who gather weekly together to connect, worship, study the Bible, and pray for one another. Often times they try to serve together in ministry within the church and in their city.
These groups often understand the centrality of the Bible, the need for community, and the purpose of the group beyond itself. I’ve had great experiences in this kind of group. But I’ve often found there is a significant struggle to invite others to join in, and it’s often difficult to mobilize an entire group to do something outside the regular meeting.
In trying to balance a number of different objectives, small groups often struggle to produce mature disciples of Jesus and multiply into new communities. Why?