Stubborn or Stuck Communities?

Today we’ve got the privilege of hearing from Nic Harding, one of our 3DM Frontier Leaders from the UK, as he shares some of his experience of helping local missional communities overcome the barriers of fully living a 3-dimenionsal life:


As we were chatting over a drink at the coffee shop, a conversation about the frustrations of our Missional Communities emerged amidst the joking and banter.

‘But what are we going to do about George’s community?’ said Caris, one our student workers. ‘It’s just becoming so inward looking, it’s like they’re scared of reaching out, and all they want to do is hang out together.’

Jim, one of the community coaches replied: ‘Well that’s the opposite of my problem, the Angel community are just so focussed on reaching their housing estate that they seem to have no idea how to build new people into their Missional Community, all they do is acts of service to their neighbours, but no-one ever gets to be part of their community.’

This made me think about the way we view our communities.  As coaches or community leaders, how can we bring a healthy balance to our missional communites? When we talk about balance in communities, its always helpful to consider the triangle – our tool for imitating Jesus’ pattern of maintaining 3-dimensions of relationship: UP to the Father, IN to our close community and OUT to new people and the world around us. As we consider getting this balance in our communities, its easy to see where we can end up jumping to extremes. We don’t want to either be paralysed into inaction because of a fear of excess in any one dimension, or to be overloaded with an overwhelming sense of trying to do everything at once.

So how can we think about this?

Too often we just play to our strengths (perhaps pastoral, teaching or evangelistic), react out of fear or hurt, get stuck in a rut, or just give up trying to do something that seems too much effort. I’d like to suggest two approaches; “integration” and “mobilisation”, which, when considered together, may help us to understand how to steer communities in a way that helps them to grow in to this balanced lifestyle.

If we look at the triangle from two complementary views it may help us to see that “integrating” new people into our communities, and “mobilising” established members are just two sides of the same coin. Both methods can lead to communities operating in fulness.


integrationLet’s start with OUT: we can see that our mission is to INFILTRATE our networks or neighbourhoods with good news behaviour and words. INITIATING  those we meet into Christian community and to faith is a simple process of inviting those we meet to join us in our shared life of food, fun and spiritual journeying.

A young Muslim Somali asylum seeker started to coming to our Monday meals. He was accepted, listened to, befriended and came under the sound of our testimonies. One evening he was listening to us discussing a scripture when he interrupted us to ask if he could say something. He very politely said ‘you all seem so happy and it’s because you have Jesus. Can I have him too?’ The tears were flowing before we had finished praying with him. He is now in a one on one discipling relationship with one of the community, and will be for a few months. He is able to INTEGRATE in to the culture of discipleship we are building.

What about the other way round?


mobilisationStarting with UP, we can see that GROWING up in God is fundamental to all we do as Missional Communities. We create accountability in our discipleship culture primarily through small group discovery bible studies. We make sure we include the two discipleship questions as we look at the text – ‘What is God saying and what am I going to do about it?’ This draws out the best in everyone and motivates them to be contributors and not just consumers. Each one discovers how they can be GIVING into the life of the community. As they make their best contribution, they then discover they are not alone in GOING out into the world to be good news. This gives courage, and an empowering sense of shared mission.

Anne discovered that she was not alone, but part of a family on mission. She engaged with what God was saying to her as we studied the scriptures, and realised how easy it was to invite her friends to our Sunday lunch socials. The group prayed with her and asked God to soften her friends hearts. But Anne was still surprised when they agreed to come, and even more delighted when her friends became our friends.

So we can see that the triangle works in both directions, from mission to discipleship and from discipleship to mission. Our job is to make it simple and easy for people to move in either direction.

It was a light bulb moment for Jim and Caris as they realised that understanding the directional flows of the triangle could help them with their stubborn and stuck Missional Communities. Jim even offered to buy the next round of drinks!

It’s not an either or between mission and discipleship, but an integrated approach where they support and reinforce each other

Where is your community at, and how could this understanding help you go move forward with greater ease and enjoyment?

Nic-Thumbnail-web3Nic is senior pastor of Frontline Church in Liverpool. Nic and Jenny have 4 daughters and 6 grandchildren. Nic also has an increasing role in the Covenant Kingdom Network of churches. A good book in a coffee shop is his favourite kind of recharging time.  


3 replies »

  1. Nic,
    Very helpful words indeed. Hadn’t quite seen this until now. Mobilisation of disciples to be those who embrace God’s mission is a big deal in many churches I’m sure. I think I knew what you talk about intuitively but now I have something to hang what our community is trying to do. The great thing is that as we all mature, I see the pattern reversingand we will likely need to focus on Integration. Thanks again.

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