Missional community in a dorm

Here’s a great video from Campus Renewal Ministries whose mission is to produce unity between the different ministries on campuses and  to start missional communities. This video is from here at the University of Texas in Austin. The last figures I heard, they have more than 200 of these groups.

Jester M/C Story from Campus Renewal on Vimeo.

What’s in a name? Missional Community

The word, “missional” has become something of a buzz-word over recent years. Several friends such as Linda Bergquist and Alan Hirsch were involved in writing a Missional Manifesto which was published last year to help describe the term. Here’s the first sentence from the manifesto:

God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.

Several of the mega-churches in our city have come to terms with the fact that , even if they multiplied themselves many times over, they wouldn’t be able to reach the city in the way they long to, and they are adopting simple/organic principles as a deliberate strategy. This isn’t just happening here in Austin, but all over the country.

I’ve led workshops at three of their conferences (like Verge and Exponential), and the main speakers at the conferences have included people like Neil Cole, David Watson, George Patterson, David Garrison–all of whom teach on simple/organic principles and church planting or disciple-making movements.

What these churches have come to recognize through the teachings of people like Alan Hirsch, is that an attractional model of church (“Come to our church service, come and hear our special speaker) isn’t nearly as effective as sending the members of their church into their communities and sub-cultures to reach out with the good news of Jesus. And although their church members might continue to come to the main church, the new “missional communities” formed in the harvest from the disciples that come to the Lord through their witness, are not expected to feed into the main church. These missional communities are autonomous, able to baptize and give communion, free to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when they meet.

To all intents and purposes, they are simple/organic churches. “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

I, personally, am very excited by this development. Mega-churches have huge resources of personnel. Imagine what could happen if these churches sent out their young people by their hundreds to form missional communities across the city.

Alongside this,  a slightly different model is also called a missional community. These “missional communities” originated in the UK. Mike Breen is the name most commonly associated with them. This model is larger–a small congregation with 25-50 people attending. They are not just a smaller version of Sunday morning, but have an upward focus (towards God) and inward focus towards their missional community and an outward focus into mission. They have spread into Europe and are now becoming better known here in the States.

What might happen in our cities if nobody minds who gets the credit?

What might it look like when big and small work together?

Rabbit and elephant
Photo credit: brendan.wood (Creative Commons)

The rabbit and the elephant have very different strengths. Different sized churches do too.

Rabbit sized churches:

  • Can penetrate into every nook and cranny of society reaching people who would never darken the door of a church building
  • Have the potential to multiply rapidly along relationship lines
  • Foster community and every member participation

Elephant sized churches:

  • Are highly visible
  • Can produce larger-scale events 
  • Have many resources of both people and finance

Many larger churches are adopting simple/organic principles when it comes to reaching out into their communities with the good news of the Gospel. They actively encourage their members who are more entrepreneurial in terms of church planting to start new groups outside the four walls of the building. These"second tracks" (often called missional communities) are effectively simple churches with a missional emphasis. Often there is no expectation that these groups will feed new disciples into the main church.

It seems that God is working these principles right across the denominational lines. What can we do to support and involve with each other? Are there ways in which those of us who have been involved in simple/organic practices for many years, can stand together with the churches who are beginning to explore these areas?

What might happen in our cities if no one is seeking to get the credit?

Organic/missional principles in a legacy environment

Mega churches are starting missional communities in many areas around the country.  (Exponential, the largest conference available for church planters, has several organic church people speaking at the main sessions this year –I've even been asked to take a workshop!) But I  haven't yet heard that many stories from slightly smaller churches.  However, here's a great story of what can happen in a more typical legacy environment.  It's slightly longer than my usual posts, but you'll enjoy hearing what God is doing.

Jim Street contacted me, and when I asked for his story, shared about Listening Posts–which are based on the Life Transformation Groups started by Neil Cole and Paul Kaak.  Here's part of what he wrote:

"I started Listening Posts after attending one of Neil's Greenhouse events. The one I attended was led by Ed Waken. I was looking for a way to engage legacy church folks in a more missional way. Some are, frankly, a little afraid of bold evangelism and many have been shaped that way by churches which have left the 'heavy lifting" in evangelism to paid staff. Further, they have been well trained by the attractional model of doing flashy things up front. 

Anyway, I thought the emphasis on listening would provide them a way to be out in the marketplace, etc. without feeling intimidated at the prospects of being "bold evangelists." (Little did they know they would find those opportunities once they got out there! ha! The Lord has sent many people our way.)

We have the same emphasis on reading scripture but have not insisted on the more direct approach to accountability. I've taken the approach that if they are listening to the Spirit as He speaks to them through the word that they will have plenty to share when they get together. We also pray for 3 people but are emphasizing what I call 'implicating prayer'…that God would use us as answers to our prayers as God wills. 

Our church is very small…about 60 members. About 40% of our adult members are currently involved. 

I approached Atlanta Christian College, where I teach in their adult program, about the possibility of engaging their students in LPs, especially as a way to get them off campus and into the community. They went for that and so LPs are a major component of their students' spiritual formation. Not sure how many groups we have there but there are many.

I have also taught LPs in almost every class I teach. Pastoral Counseling (where I teach that the church and not the pastor-as-therapist-in-residence is called to provide the care and counsel for the people.) I have suggested that LPs would be a good way to get out into the community as a way to provide such care and counsel to the lost and hurting. 

I also teach LPs in my class on Administration and Leadership, which I teach as admin and leadership of a missional movement…I use Alan Hirsch's Forgotten Ways as the text. There the emphasis is more on the missional side of ministry but, in many ways, mission through the provision of "tiny missional communities of disciples of Jesus."

I also approached a large legacy church on the SW side of Atlanta, one pastored by an old friend, about starting up these groups. They are on board and I am hearing some incredible stories of transformation as people actually sit down and read the scripture together and open themselves to the moving of the Spirit!

I spoke a couple of weeks ago to another large legacy church, a church, which at one time, was a very large mega church but which has now shrunken down to less than 400 members. They meet in a gargantuan building. The Lord impressed on me that they should start at least 50 groups by the end of January…and that's what I told them. (One very well-heeled woman has begun one with another woman I know who is a recovering drug addict with an armload of felonies…homeless, unemployed, penniless. Wow!

We are seeing people come to the Lord through this ministry, seeing people being reconciled, being transformed…people who were afraid of being seen with a Bible in a public place boldly praying in those places. 

It is a great, great thing to behold!

I am pressing on to speak in as many churches as I can as a way to encourage people in legacy pews to get out into the community where they listen to God, to one another and to the world. 

It's all about discipleship, community and mission and these little groups are helping people get that. 

Sorry, if I rambled on too much…I'm stoked. 🙂

And, it's great to be stoked at 60! "