I started this series by nailing my colors to the wall, saying that organizing a church as a network of mid-sized missional communities holds tremendous promise in reaching post-Christian contexts. In response to some of the questions on that first post, today I’ll set the stage a bit and define what I mean by “missional community.” Later posts will get into the biblical, historical, and sociological rationale for missional communities.
It’s helpful to understand some of the seismic shifts we’re experiencing right now in the Western world. Church attendance has been falling steadily over the past few years. The stats are fairly staggering. The weekly church attendance among the Builder generation is around 65%, Boomers are at 35%, Generation X is at 15%, and among Generation Y only 4% attend a church service regularly.
These statistics indicate the kinds of cultural shifts we’re experiencing right now. What was once a fairly important activity (church-going) is now something 96% of the emerging generation doesn’t do! So is this “missional communities” stuff about getting those people “back in church?” Not really. When I talk about “reaching” post-Christian contexts, I’m not talking about getting them to come back to church services. I’m talking about bringing people to experience the “eternal kind of life” that comes through trusting Jesus and walking with him. Missional Communities are a fantastic way to do this for post-Christian contexts.
Some of the questions readers asked revolved around whether or not this talk of “missional communities” was simply a new way to talk about things the church is already doing. What I am talking about is not more of the same with a new name, even though I’ve seen some “missional communities” that are essentially small groups with a mission focus. But the way I’m using the term, there’s a big difference.
Here’s a brief definition, taken from Wikipedia article on Missional Community:
A Missional Community is a group of anything from 20 to 50+ people who are united, through Christian community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. With a strong value on life together, the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus, through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further missional communities. Missional Communities are most often networked within a larger church community (often times with many other Missional Communities). These mid-sized communities, led by laity, are “lightweight and low maintenance” and most often meet 3-4 times a month in their missional context.
Because missional communities are larger than small groups, they can do some substantive things in their mission context. Because they are smaller than a whole church, everyone can be known and loved and contribute to the community. Check out the whole article for more information and a brief history of their genesis and development.
To put it another way (bullet points!), here’s how Alex Absalom, who has been working with MCs for 15 years, defines them in his upcoming book Missional Communities:
- A group of between 20 and 50+ people
- Can be either a new church plant, or more commonly a sub-set of a larger gathered church
- Centered around Jesus
- The defining focus is on reaching a particular neighborhood or network of relationships
- This takes place in community, with lots of food and fun!
- There is a healthy balance of UP (relationship w/ God), IN (relationship w/ one another) and OUT (relationship with mission context)
- You don’t need to be a professing Christian to belong
- The group is unashamed about following Christ, both in values and in vision
- As disciples of Jesus, worship, prayer and Scripture reading are core practices
- The group looks outwards through a mixture of service and witnessing
- This common mission focus is a key glue for the shared sense of togetherness
- People gather informally throughout the week, not just at formal meetings
- Life together includes a high value on small groups for support and encouragement
- Leaders receive ongoing help, coaching and accountability
- Leaders do not do everything, they facilitate and release others to serve and lead
Any thoughts or questions strike you as you read this?
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