I usually follow the work of Jonny Baker pretty closely. But somehow one of his recent updates slipped past my radar, until I saw it posted on Tony Jones’ blog under the headline “Good News for the Missional Church.”
Jonny, for those who don’t know him, works for the Church Mission Society in the UK (affiliated with the Church of England), is the director of Proost, is a part of one of the original emerging churches in the UK (Grace), and is an all-around creative and innovative thinker, writer, speaker, etc.
Jonny writes (in his style with no capitalization):
“something really interesting continues to bubble up in the church in the uk — small missional communities.
“yesterday there was a gathering in london diocese of around 30 groups like this and church plants. and well done the diocese for encouraging such a gathering! i don’t want to create a glossary or anything but a church plant is generally someone starting a new church and the language of plant means it often takes something of the character of what it’s planted from and usually looks like a church — people gathering, worshipping, reaching out, making disciples, giving money and eventually embedding into the wider structures of the church. it used to be quite something to be able to get permission to plant a church but now certainly in london there is a lot of activity in this area which is great.
“but what was so interesting yesterday was that most of the people in the room were doing something else, often a bit looser, harder to pin down and perhaps harder to see, more missional. most were a small community that had moved into a particular area (often one with a lot of deprivation and poverty), meeting together in a bar or home or allotment, seeking to follow christ but their focus is simply helping transform their community — in arts, environment, in social needs, with youth and so on. they are not that focused on growing big — but more like the yeast of the kingdom that jesus talked about infecting the wider batch of dough. a couple of people spoke of the challenge of weaning members off their addiction to consumer approaches to church where they get their fix of worship and teaching and meeting with friends before they could properly engage in this more local, outward focused community approach (maybe we need a 12 step detox programme for leaving consumer church!?). what was also interesting is that many of these described a positive relationship with their local churches — they were not competing for punters – far from it. but they brought a mission energy to the area that could really help a local church or do things a local church was not able to do. on the basis of what was shared, if i was a parish priest (which isn’t going to happen) i’d be on the lookout to see if i could encourage a mission community or two in my area. for those up with mission thinking this is a great example of what missiologist ralph winter termed sodal and modal expressions of church working well together …”
I’m convinced that churches — especially in the U.S., but clearly eslewhere as well — are going to keep getting bigger and bigger (megachurches) and smaller and smaller (small missional communities). And it’s the churches that are in-between that are slowly going to get squeezed out.
I’m fascinated by the renewed emphasis on parish and place, and I especially like what Jonny says about existing churches finding these small missional communities and “encouraging” them in some way through some kind of partnership, whatever that may look like. Jonny also offers some great links to other resources, so go check out his entire post.
What do you think about this report on missional shift in the UK? How do you see existing churches coming alongside and encouraging small missional communities? What could that look like?