This post is part of a series where we’ll delve into issues which regularly arise in our coaching huddles. Many of these conversations are about issues relevant to the wider movement. Last month we looked at how to learn and live from the scriptures; this month we’re looking in to the question “How do Sunday services fit with Missional Communities”. Rich Robinson shares some thoughts:
So, is it really possible for Missional communities to fit with Sunday services?
Yes – but there is a tension.
When churches commit to doing both missional communities and Sunday services, there is a stretch on resources in terms of money, time and effort. Getting the right balance of allocation of these resources can cause tension. Or, tension may be caused by individual members or a group of members favouring Missional Communities over Sunday Services or vice versa. In this scenario it can feel easier to just opt for one model, or another. As humans, we’re programmed to pull away from pain– when we touch a hot radiator we pull our hand away, or when we step on something sharp we take our weight off it. So when it feels difficult or painful for Missional Communities and services to co-exist our gut reaction is to pull away and do one thing or another. The tension can create synergy – but we have to allow it.
Missional Communities and Celebration services are both important and should work together
– with Missional Communities ‘orbiting’ (like planets) in and out of the services. Over the years, many have chosen one of the models and missed the other.The strength of Missional Communities is that they are lay led, incarnational, extended families living life on life – where the membrane between a pre-christian and a Christ follower is at its narrowest, and the reality of sacrificial love can be lived out most effectively and regularly .
when just Missional Communities are adopted they can often grow quickly and widely but can fracture
or wain over time because of a lack of connectivity to each other and to the wider church family – expressed not solely, but in part through gathered celebration
Looking at the other end of the scale, when churches solely used Gather Services they miss the dynamic of people living as extended family in the marketplace, school yard, neighbourhood, around the dinner table. Some opt for this model because they believe ‘bigger is better’; others believe that “gathered = safer”.
The strength of the Sunday service and gathered celebration (centre) is that it can be a place of teaching, training, equipping, worship, prayer, and ministry.
It can function as a strong heart pumping oxygen to the hands and feet. The challenge facing the Sunday Gathering is that it can usually only offer a “crowd” dynamic, with a few people performing roles at the front. Vulnerability, community, and missional discipleship can’t be built with the “crowds”.
The most effective scenario is where these two expressions of Christian community work together to mobilise & equip the body. The apostle Paul talked about preaching the gospel at the temple (Gathered Celebration) and from house to house (missional community) (Acts 5:42). The aim in in doing both Gathered Celebration and Missional Communities is to reflect both these dynamics.
What might this look like?
This is how we embraced the tension in Sheffield. This is not a prescriptive method, rather a practical example to flesh out the principle.
The majority of Missional Communities would be out and active in the community for two Sundays a month. This would be in the community or network that they were part of, and seeking to reach. On the other two Sundays members of those Missional Communites would be back at the celebration service as part of the wider church family.
This was not a ‘one size fits all’ rhythm – some would just be ‘in’ the celebration once a month and others might only be ‘out’ of the celebration once a month.
The frequency itself is not important and should be determined by the Missional Vision and the Missional Community leaders. What is important in this process is accountability.
There should always be communication and agreement of the patterns between the Missional Community leaders and the church leadership. In Sheffield each Missional Community had an agreed pattern of meetings. Communication is key – the central leadership team and central ministry leaders need to ensure good communication with Missional Community leaders.
In Sheffield, the central ministries aimed to serve and equip the Missional Communities. So, for example the kids & youth ministry need to equip & resource the Missional Communities with kids in them. This can be a challenging mind-set when many churches pour a lot of time and effort into their Sunday services. There is a cost in this and we have to embrace it as we look to the prize. The cost is the re-allocation of resources – people, time and effort. So for example, one of your more gifted kids workers may feel called to lead a Missional community in their local neighbourhood, or a Missional
Community may feel they don’t have the capacity to serve the central gatherings. And as a leader you may not be able to communicate your message to the whole church every week.
Sunday services do not need to be done badly so that people engage with Missional Communities! But there may need to be a decrease in quality or quantity to re-allocate resources (people, time, effort) in the season of adjustment. It is important to embrace the tension and to work with it to produce synergy – where both are working together. The way to achieving this starts with reflecting, talking and planning around what is working, and aiming to re-allocate resources so that the central team are fully resourcing the Missional Communities.