What a “Missional Community” is and isn’t: understanding the basics

Image comes from Austin Stone Church. Website Credit: http://austinstone.org/connect/missional-community

In what follows, I’m sharing with you what I shared with our church plant Core Team last night. The following outline describes what a “Missional Community” is and what it isn’t. Now, I’m using this language for our context, so I’m not claiming to have the corner on the MC market (so to speak). Also, I should say that although this outline is adapted for our context at Pangea Communities in Seattle, it is thoroughly stolen from Mike Breen and 3DM.*** I’d love your thoughts…

What a Missional Community Isn’t

#1 A Small Group – easily becomes exclusive

#2 A Bible Study – easily becomes focused on information

#3 A Program or Event – easily becomes another “busy” activity (MC’s should be both organic and organized)

What a Missional Community Is

“The twentieth century saw the emergence of a Churchless Mission and a Missionless Church.” – Eddie Gibbs

#1 Oikos (household/family) – an extended family on mission where everyone contributes and everyone is supported.

#2 Huddles – These groups are the foundation of an MC, creating space for grassroots discipleship/transformation and leadership development. All leaders will be part of huddles at some level.

#3 MC Defined: A Missional Community is a group of approximately 18-40 people who are seeking to reach a particular neighborhood and/or network of relationships with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

  • 18-40 committed people– Size matters! These are mid-sized communities, larger than small groups but smaller than a congregation (multiple MC’s make up the whole of the church).
    • Small enough to care – An extended family where everyone can be known, unlike when folks eventually gather as an entire church. The size of a “house party” where guests can feel welcome (and check things out with less social pressure and more anonymity than traditional small groups) and easily become part of the family when they are comfortable (even if they aren’t committed to the way of Jesus).
    • Big enough to dare – MC’s are large enough to have the shared resources needed to make an impact in their neighborhoods for causes of peace and justice.  Also, these groups can raise up leaders and send them out to plant new MC’s without feeling like the group has been “gutted.”
  • Clear Missional Vision – From the beginning, MC’s discern their specific calling within their specific context.   A community/oikos committed to a common mission (both in regards to justice and inviting others into Jesus-shaped community) creates a common purpose for all people involved. Without vision, the community will become a social group. “Vision is the magnet that draws people to the community and the engine that keeps the community moving” (Mike Breen).
    • Missional Focus Examples – Neighborhood: focus on certain blocks, subdivision, geography, etc. Relational Network: focus on shared relationships, work, students, hobby, subculture, etc. Our communities will focus on both relational networks and context (with the ultimate goal of those to spheres intersecting naturally as our communities multiply).
  • Lightweight/Low-maintenance– MC’s should be inexpensive to operate, easy to plan, led by leaders with 9-5’s, and not attempt to replicate the worship experience that happens at a Sunday Gathering (takes too much effort/resources). Energy should be placed on discerning opportunities for mission within a context and for caring for the needs of the community.
    • Plans should be guided by oikos-style “family rhythms” – Everyone contributes, potluck style, everyone cleans up, etc.
    • Multiple Teachers Equipped and Unleashed – Spiritual conversations will be part of MC’s formal times together. Those with teaching gifts will be equipped to share the load when it comes to preparing conversations each week. Recognized teachers who want to teach will attend monthly equipping meetings to continue to sharpen their skills and to remain in step with the vision of Pangea Communities.
    • The point – “It’s about learning to live a missional lifestyle together, not attending a series of missional events” (Mike Breen).
  • Organic and OrganizedMC’s have weekly gathering times (formal), but ought to naturally create inclusive spaces for people to party and eat together. Meals at various homes and regular parties are some examples of the organic life of an MC.
    • Party, Meals – often! (Organic)
    • Weekly Gatherings, Justice/Peacemaking (Organized)
    • Huddles (Organized)
  • Accountable Leader(s) – MC’s will have clear facilitator/leaders who help organize and guide the life of the MC. These leaders are accountable to other MC members and especially to the larger church (Pangea Communities).
    • Low Control – The vision for the MC comes from the leaders within that particular context, not from the church leadership (with the exception of certain values and basic structural expectations that extend to all MC’s).
    • High Accountability – Central church leadership is very involved in helping MC leaders carry out the vision that God has given to him/her and their community.
  • Up/In/Out RhythmsUp: relationship with God (not because God is in the sky, but because God is enthroned over all creation), In: loving one another in community, Out: justice, peacemaking, and relational invitation into the way of Jesus.
    • These are not “events” but become the essence of “family rhythms” that define the MC.

“The MCs become places of on-the-ground mission for the people of God, dispersed among neighborhoods and networks of a city [Seattle], but still orbiting a central church, which becomes a place of training, equipping, prayer, resourcing, and encouragement for the MCs.”  – Mike Breen

QUESTION: What have been your experiences with Missional Communities? Share about the good, the bad, and the hopeful!

Pangea Communities Core Values

Peace – We choose to love our enemies.
Justice – We choose to right wrongs with those at the margins.
Hope – We choose to imagine the world as it ought to be.
Community – We choose counter-cultural relationships guided by love.
Inclusive – We choose to invite everyone to the party.
Story – We choose to live into the narrative of God.
Transformation – We choose the subversive path of knowing and following the crucified Christ.
Context – We choose to ask rooted questions to unleash creativity.

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***Most of this document comes from or is inspired by Leading Missional Communities: Rediscovering the power of living on mission together by Mike Breen and 3DM.

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  • Erik Merksamer

    I’m recently coming out of a very controlling “missional community” that used the terminology of “organic” but was quite the opposite. Members of that church were told to join MCs in their closest proximity, which made sense, but those MC leaders were appointed by the Lead Pastor. Furthermore, smaller groups, called “DNA” groups also had assigned “DNA LEADERS” whom were “discipling” 2-3 other gender divided people. Church members were told to only meet in “DNA” groups with people in the same MC and under the accountability of that specific DNA leader. To me, this was completely forced, and also frightening that people were asked very personal questions and expected to share openly with a “leader” who was assigned to them. There were other concerns beyond that, but that was enough to get my family to leave that church.

    • Ken Steckert

      Eric – interesting story. I am finishing up leading a very small group using the book “Missional Small Groups” by Scott Boren. What I like about the book is that it is not “how-to” such that I am impressed with simply living on mission. Combining small groups, missional communities, and the “large church” on Sundays, it seems there are 3 layers and it could easily lead to “too many church activities” which I understand to be the opposite of what being missional is all about. And as I understand your observations, it can lead to being overly organized, also the opposite of what I understand missional to be.

      My understanding of living missionally is very simple – taking the time to be in relationship with people we are frequently in contact with, and loving them where they are. It seems to me putting “organization” into it leads to placing “expectations” which works against the way of love. Love is patient, kind, etc. and works itself out according to no schedule, as it continues to give without measuring the return.

      Living on mission, being intentional to love my neighbor as myself, is always a challenge. I understand why churches want to put organization and expectation because they want to see results. But results-driven is the antithesis of missional as I understand it. It seems to me there needs to be much trust and willing to “fail” by all measurable standards as there is trust in the humble character of those living missionally so we work together encouraging and challenging each other to keep our eyes open for opportunities to love and then take the time, whatever is required, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

      • Erik Merksamer

        Thanks for this response Ken. You speak my heart. To me also, being “missional” simply means realizing that all of our life belongs to Jesus, and we are all sent ones. There is no compartmentalizing anything.

        Results-driven systems are what I am strongly turned off by. The institution I mentioned before talked about “measuring health” often, and it translated to numerical growth. This is the corporate model of many church planter/entrepreneurs that I interact with.

        Your ideas, Ken, are healing to me. I’d love to experience that kind of community. I pray that my family is led to it, or is shown how to facilitate it.

        Shalom!

        • Ken Steckert

          Erik – I hope we both find that kind of community. Interestingly, in the very small group (5 people) of discussing living in community this way, there is hesitancy by the group to want to do it. In one way I am encouraged by this because we realize the cost of time and energy to live this way.

          I have been seeking to focus on where we are living missionally individually and in community so we are encouraged while at the same time challenging us to be much more intentional. As the small group coordinator at our church on the one hand I want to challenge all of us to live this way, while on the other I want to simply be a part of a group that does this. Maybe I can do both, but I think I would be better to simply focus on the latter because that takes much energy, and once there are some of us working together in this, maybe more develops, maybe not. But what matters most is that we lose our life fully in Jesus so that we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is so easy to get distracted from this.

  • David

    One of my central problems with campus ministry revolves around its tendency not to emphasize the centrality of the Church to the individual Christian’s spiritual life. Church is merely the thing we may do on Sundays, that we can do together if you like, but primarily what we do as Christians are discipleship and evangelism, as though the two could be separated from the life of a church community. I.e., mission – church = trying to pick apples from an orange tree.

  • Pubilius

    I’ve heard a good bit about MCs and new monasticism in the Dallas community, but I’d like to hear some of the drawbacks and challenges they face as well (this post seems more of an advertisement at the expense of current church organizations (events, sunday school, etc), which granted, have their own problems).

  • LF3

    This post actually reinforces what I believe to be the problem with the description of this concept in the first place: it’s unclear and seems unfocused. More specifically, the “isn’t” list excludes specifics while the “is” list includes generalities. That is, the 1-2-3 of the “isn’t” list isn’t necessarily incompatible with the 1-2-3 of the “is” list. It makes comparisons very difficult from the get-go.


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