Launching Missional Communities – Creating Effective Space for Ministry

“Missional” is one of the biggest buzz words in contemporary Christianity. There are a lot of books on theory but very few guides that actually lay out the nuts and bolts of how our faith can be lived out in missional communities that go beyond the Sunday morning experience. Mike Breen and Alex Absalom have provided us with such a guide that lays out the mission of the church, asks how it is being done via the institutional model of congregational life and then gives a strategy for how to get Christians more invested and involved in the mission of the church as laid out in scripture. Their book is called Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide and it is a must read book if you work with small groups or oversee missions in your congregation.

Based on who they site and how often they bring in outside resources in making their points, these guys have really done their homework. This book is well researched from the theory side and that knowledge is balanced in practice as this book is the culmination of many years of work trying to construct a model that worked. But what is most important in all of this is their concern for scripture. Just because two or three scholars say the same thing doesn’t make it so. What I love about this book is that their conclusions as to what the very best model for congregational life should be like and what is most effective is the biblical one!

In section 2.3 Breen and Absalom talk about why they didn’t use the traditional small group model of the 6-12 personal ideal. While that model of small groups is often touted as biblical (and it is) it is not always mentioned that many house churches were actually quite a bit larger than that and could accommodate 50 people or more within one house church. Their model uses groups of 20-50 people to build missional communities. In doing so they avoid some of the common pitfalls that often plague the traditional small group model including (from p.42):

  1. “They often refused the call (to be more missional) and continued to stay inwardly focused, or
  2. There was never enough momentum due to the size, and burnout soon ensued.”
  3. Groups can typically only multiply 3 times and then they don’t want to go through it again. So the small group model, if done as effectively as possible, has a short lifespan before it naturally slows done and may lose part of its purpose of being out-focused.

They point out that the small group model that so many of us have been a part of focus on getting things more spiritually intimate. What I mean by that is having discussions on a deeper level so that we can really impact the lives of those in the group in a way that just can’t happen in an auditorium full of 500+ people on Sunday morning. They point out that just as a married couple needs to have more than private intimacy to have a healthy relationship, Christians also need more spaces together than just intimate environments to grow. We don’t always have to be talking about deep, heavy, or private matters in order to grow our relationships with each other.

They focus on four areas or spaces they believe are important in the life of a missional community with each space getting progressively closer in contact or distance than the last: public, social, personal and intimate space. They believe these four spaces are found in scripture and should be reflected in the life of the church. Each space serves a different purpose and each has a different outcome expected of it. When these four things work in unison the outcomes can be powerful. No one space is sufficient to meet all of our diverse needs as human beings. And yet, many churches get focused on one or two to the neglect of the rest.

Alex gives one example from his experience visiting a church where the values of the different levels of space were confused. He talks about walking into a church for the first time and getting hugged by all sorts of people in the lobby before he ever got into the auditorium. He says that was not a “wise course of action in a public space.” It would be perfectly appropriate in a more personal or intimate level of space with a smaller number of people who have already built relationships with each other on some level. The point is, we need to have room for all levels of interaction so that we can accomplish important aspects of our lives as Christians on a wide spectrum of depth with each other.

More on this book in several upcoming posts. If you would like to read more about Missional Communities have a look at Mike’s blog or Alex’s blog at the links above.


What is Your Congregation Known for in Your Community?

I often wonder what the Northwest Church of Christ is known for in our community. I think that is a good thing to think about. If we don’t have a good answer to that question, chances are, our salt is still in the shaker. So, what is your congregation known for in your community? How did that happen? What are you doing, as a congregation, to actively engage your community with love and the Gospel of Christ? What tough decisions did your elders have to make and what vision did they cast to see that it took place?

Missional Conversations – Raising Missional Awareness

Just a few thoughts I posted over at Missional Conversations. I would love to hear your feedback on it. God bless. Here is the link.

One Size Fits All Ministry?

More and more people are recognizing that ministry is not “one size fits all.” All those emails you get about guaranteeing to double your Sunday morning attendance, attract more visitors, etc end up being pretty meaningless because what is working in one location with a particular group of Christians is not guaranteed to work everywhere else all the time.

People are now talking more and more about organic styles of ministry. These styles have more of a flow and fluctuation to them, recognizing that stagnation often leads to decline and a missing of our mission. Instead Christianity is seen as an ever growing process where our lives are not seen as a disconnected string of ministry activities. Instead Christianity is seen as an identity to be lived out.

In Guder’s Missional Church he talks about how the church has often chosen methodology over messiah in his landmark book Missional Church.

The typical North American response to our situation is to analyze the problem and find a solution. These solutions tend to be methodological. Arrange all the components of the church landscape differently, and many assume that the problem can be solved. Or use the best demographic or psychological or sociological insights, and one can redesign the church for success in our changing context. All it takes, it would seem, is money, talent, time and commitment.  – p.2

He goes on to say the real issues are not methodological (the mechanics of how specific ministries are done) but are spiritual and theological. I think Guder is right on the money. Another part of the problem is that we have typicall made elders out of those who know how to work the corporate model of finance and marketing to achieve growth. We have looked to them as they are the “successful” people in our midst. All the while overlooking those who have a heart for God’s mission and his people (thus the importance of an elder as a shepherd) even though they may not know how to keep their checkbook balanced.

How have you seen this imbalance and the influence of corporate models and methods over the spiritual and theological aspects of who we are as Christians and the mission we are a part of?