Let’s be clear on one thing: Missional Communities will not happen effectively until the first two building blocks are in place.
Because Missional Communities are just a by-product of discipleship.
If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.
In our previous two posts we’ve looked at how to build a discipling culture, and how to identify, grow, release and multiply missional leaders. If we don’t learn how to build a discipling culture, and then how to invest in, and multiply, missional leaders we won’t see lasting fruit from Missional Communities. If we don’t truly adopt, and foster, a lifestyle and culture of discipleship, Missional Communities will be little more than the latest gimmick soon to be replaced by the next “bright idea”.
Mission, and Missional Communities are unsustainable without discipleship. Let that be our starting place.
So, do we really need Missional Communities? Can’t we just meet in larger gatherings and small groups?
Small groups provide a great space for support, challenge and deepening relationships. And in Celebration-style services we’re inspired by well-prepared teaching and large-scale worship. Momentum builds as we hear stories and teaching that reminds us that we’re part of a bigger story. But we believe there’s another “social space” that’s been missing from our churches for many years. Missional small groups were the beginnings of our experiments in Missional Communities. It soon became apparent that they were “small enough to care but not big enough to dare.” Small groups naturally have quite a pastoral feel but not enough momentum in terms of people and size to be missionally effective. Our experience has shown that when you try to encourage small groups to be more missional they often continue to stay inwardly focused, or if they do grow, the multiplication of the small group is incredibly painful for those involved. As we experimented with different sized groups in Sheffield we began to see that mid-sized groups (about the size of an extended family) gave us a missional and discipleship vehicle that could multiply again and again. Missional Communities create the space and provide a vehicle for people to unite around a vision to reach a particular neighbourhood or network of relationships. Through Missional Communities every people group can be reached; the young and the old, the poor and the rich, students, families, Iranians, Chinese, those in the suburbs and the inner-city, and any other neighbourhood or network that you can think of!
We see in the early church that they operated on a continuum between temple and household. In Acts* we see the believers meeting daily in the temple courts as well as in their homes. The early church gathered in what the New testament Greek calls Oikos. This word, meaning “house” or household” included the householder’s family slaves, and their network of relationships, friends, neighbours, and even business associates. The oikos strategy was clearly effective– in just over 300 years the early church went from having 1000 believers to roughly 33,882,000** I think that’s growth that we could all live with. These extended households (oikos) operated as a family with a purpose or mission. This is exactly what we are looking to recapture through Missional Communities. MC’s are a vehicle to help us re-learn what our culture has forgotten.
So what does a Missional Community look like?
These are some of the core components of an MC:
- A group of twenty to forty people who are on mission together to impact a particular network of relationships or a neighbourhood by incarnating the gospel into that specific context through words and deeds. Members of a MC do not need to be professing Christians, although the leaders will be.
- UP/IN/OUT. Intentionally lives out the three dimensions of Jesus’ life. UPward dimension of life with the Father, INward dimension of life with the Body of Christ together, OUTward dimension of fully stepping into a broken world.
- Clear missional vision reaching a particular neighbourhood or network of relationships. This common mission focus is the glue for the shared sense of togetherness.
- Lightweight/Low maintenance. If the Missional Community can’t be led by people with normal 9-5 jobs, it’s not lightweight and low maintenance enough. A Missional Community should NOT be a mini version of a Sunday service. It should be simple and reproducible.
- Accountable leaders. The person(s) leading the Missional Community need to be accountable to others whilst being given freedom to execute their own vision ie low control and high accountability.
- A place for training – an MC is the ideal size for people to try something (whether it’s hospitality, leading worship, teaching, organizing, innovating – or anything else that could happen in an MC) while having a safe context to risk failing in. The leaders in an MC won’t do everything – they’ll facilitate others to serve and lead.
Launching Missional Communities, and learning how to successfully lead and multiply MC’s won’t happen overnight. In fact it won’t even happen over a few weeks. Committing to launching and leading successful Missional Communities will take years rather than weeks and months. It takes time to learn. In our Learning Community and in our book, Launching Missional Communities, we delve deeper into the theological basis for MC’s as well as:
- How to pilot an MC
- How to prepare the wider church for the launch of MC’s
- Who can be an MC leader?
- How to church plant with MC’s
- What a typical meeting might look like
- Where a MC might meet
- When a MC might meet
- How to gather people around a specific MC focus
- How to grow an MC
*Acts 2: 46
**Rodney Stark, The rise of Christianity (Harper Collins, 1997)