Create Missional Communities, Not Disciples

I haven’t posted a tech startup analogy for missional community formation recently, so here’s one. Here’s a big one. And to be perfectly clear: I’m intentionally trying to be provocative here, so hold on!

Author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (The Earth Is Flat) recently spoke to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and his message was this: “Create companies, not jobs.”

“Please don’t start a social network for people with six toes. Take on something really big!”

Friedman tells the story of Oasis 500, a Jordan-based tech incubator that offered $15,000 to people with startup ideas for tapping the Arabic-speaking market online. If Oasis 500 liked an idea, the startup founders were required to attend a 6-week “boot camp,” but if they graduated from “boot camp” they received free office space in which to work for six months. If a startup lasted beyond the initial six months, they received mentoring, networking, and funding (by way of an initial angel investment). Oasis 500 is now receiving 450 applications every month, and they’ve helped launch 60 new companies.

It’s a fascinating model for funding, and it causes me to wonder what that might look like in the world of church planting/missional community formation. (Any investors out there with the pockets deep enough to bankroll that?)

The greater philosophical question that Friedman’s talk raises, however, is this: If companies create jobs, so therefore our brightest tech/business leaders are being encouraged to focus on starting companies, is the corollary true in church planting/missional community formation? If communities create disciples, shouldn’t we be focused on forming as many new missional faith communities as possible?

Friedman says [quoting one of the lead innovators at Oasis 500]:

“This isn’t about creating jobs, it’s about creating companies, and companies are growth stories. They not only create jobs, but they spin off people who start more companies.”

That sounds a lot like how missional communities should work. And if you agree that discipleship happens best in community (not as a solo/one-on-one venture), then what the world needs now is many, many more missional communities where people can find their identity and purpose in their participation in the life and mission of Jesus.

What do you think? Do you agree that communities form disciples best? Why or why not? And if so, what needs to happen to jumpstart many, more missional communities?

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  • Bob Carlton

    Great post Steve – and it strikes me as odd if this provocative. From the Didache thru nowadays, communities have always been the seed bded (the seminary) for how people are formed in following Jesus. Freidman makes some great points – ones that I find more insightful than so many folks who talk about contagious or multiplication or multi-site.

    I would underscore one aspect – “growth stories”. Yes it is about growing in numbers. But some of the most high impact startups – 37signals, for example – are intentional about staying small. That is also part of our story of community – one that so many missional communities struggle with.

    • Steve Knight

      Yes, “growth stories” is a phrase I’ll be contemplating for a while! Thanks for your reply, Bob.

  • Donald Buck

    Thanks for posting this Steve. New Testament model communities form disciples best; however, that model flies in the face of Western (read American) Christianity. Americanized Christianity bows down to the mega-leader that exudes charisma and has a mega-following of disciples; and yet, has few disciples of Jesus.
    The unbridled excitement that is rumbling the ground under the feet of the AC (americanized church) is the Spirit of God moving us into the New Testament model of community. That is where disciples are birthed, nurtured, equipped, and released to serve.
    Can a mega-entity create disciples? Of course.
    Does a small community need leadership and structure? Of course.
    But, it is in the small community that I can look my brother or sister in the eye and authentically confess that I have not loved God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and have not loved my neighbor as myself. It is in that same small community that my brother or sister will assure me of my pardon in Christ. It is in that same small community that I can be encouraged, uplifted, and made stronger in my life in Christ.
    How do we jumpstart many more missional communities? It’s already happening! From the north, east, south, and west they are making themselves known. Thanks to those who were listening to the Spirit of God and stepped outside the norm, we are seeing the manifestation of their labors.
    An exponential expansion of small communities is underway.
    What will it finally look like? That’s the exciting part! Only God in Christ knows.
    We are privileged to be servants at this time in the body of Christ.
    Instead of laboring to figure it out, let’s get in on what the Spirit of God is already doing.
    Wherever I travel across this country, without fail, people are asking for a community of faith in the Jesus model.
    We have the privilege of being at the right place at the right time.
    Whew! Apologies, Steve, for being so windy. You found my hot button!

    • Steve Knight

      Great thoughts, Donald, thank you for posting them!

  • Russ Ware

    This is great, Steve. A few thoughts…

    First of all, I agree with the premise of creating missional communities not disciples. I think the co-opt of Friedman’s charge works.

    Two thoughts…

    1. The idea of starting new missional communities, for me, also demands a deepening commitment to “place,” and more of a parish mentality. Otherwise, we run the risk of just adding to the consumer oriented, competitive, “flavor of the month” dynamic in church planting. So, that would seem to be a key difference for this idea in our faith community context v. the business model.

    2. Creating missional communities might also mean transforming communities that already exist into missional communities. I say this even as I am wrestling with how nearly impossible that seems in the church context in which I am currently employed. I’m about as close to walking away and realigning myself with folks that are really serious about this as I’ve ever been. If I could just figure out a way to do that and still feed my family. ;-)

    • Donald Buck

      Russ, if creating missional communities rather than disciples is a priority, aren’t we just creating more “branch offices” in the hopes of finding employees that want to “start a new company?”
      Shouldn’t the communities be formed from disciples who in a “place” want to create more communities of disciples?
      btw, I totally identify with your “close to walking away.”
      I’m presently in the same place in a “mainline” denomination.

      • Russ Ware

        Donald… Yes. If we want more good eggs, we need more good chickens… which come from good eggs… which come from good chickens…. which come from good eggs… which…

    • Steve Knight

      Russ, two great comments. I agree with you about the commitment to a place, and I’m grateful to my friends in the Parish Collective for championing that idea for all of us. I also think we need to be working hard where there are opportunities to do the transformational work you are talking about within existing church structures. And, having said all that, if you decide you need to walk away, let me know, I might know of some opportunities to do new missional community formation work! ;-)

  • John Longard

    Since we are sent to make disciples, I would have to say that it’s not one to the exclusion of the other. Missional communities, seen as extended families (in size, at least), are the tools whereby we make disciples who make disciples. We gather as missional communities to follow Jesus wherever he goes and join Jesus in serving the least. This is what makes us disciples.

    • Donald Buck

      I like your extended family analogy, John. Some extended families are huge and some are small, but all are family… warts and all.

      • Steve Knight

        Donald is a poet and he don’t know it! :-)

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