During a recent small-group conference, author and speaker Leonard Sweet referred to the original “operating system” of the church as MRI: Missional, Relational, Incarnational. Although referring to the mission of the church, MRI can also be applied to small-group ministry.

Missional suggests richness and sincerity in an earnest pursuit to fulfill the Great Commission. To be missional is to push out–locally and globally—looking to find where God is at work. The missional aspect of small-group life applies action to a believer’s new heart.
Relational encompasses the gamut of human experience as we reach out those around us—while also inviting others into our lives. Its intensity lies in shared experiences along the paths of our spiritual pilgrimages. A friend of mine recently said, “I’m on a journey and I’m just looking for people willing to be on journey with me.” To be relational is to understand the spiritual journey and be willing to engage others at that level. To be relational means that you must accept God’s invitation to the adventure He is inviting you into as well. Acts 2:44-46 embodies the essence of what we mean by “relational.”
Incarnational points to a vibrancy in the Spirit and sense of being alive in Christ that borders on being palpable. Incarnational means that the kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:1).

By contrast, Sweet has concluded that the present operating system of too many churches is no longer rooted in MRI. Instead, many churches today are leaning on methods of attraction instead of being missional; have become colonial instead of relational; and rely on proposition as opposed to being incarnational.

Given their mobility, flexibility, autonomy, and composition, small groups would seem to be the most MRI-accessible; most in-line with Sweet’s assessment of the church’s original OS. So are they? One look at Rick Howerton’s 19 Types of Small Group Members and you’d be hardpressed to conclude MRI as an automatic, however. As a small-group leader or small-group member, take opportunities to assess MRI in your group(s).