Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: What’s the Big Deal?
Part 2: What Does It Look Like?
Part 3: The Early Church
Part 4: Oikos in the Bible
Part 5: Sociological Matters
Last time I explored a sociological rationale for mid-sized missional communities. Today I’ll explore some of the benefits of MCs by answering some of the excellent questions people have asked me about them.
In the comments on the first post in this series, Jon Reid had several thoughts that anticipated many of the strategic advantages that mid-sized missional communities have in post-Christian contexts. Jon’s thoughts are in italics.
“Going to a stranger’s house doesn’t fit our culture, so small groups do not naturally draw seekers. But post-Christians are not interested in the big church. Where might a mid-sized community sit in the minds of seekers?”
I think it can work beautifully in this way. You’re not inviting people into an uncomfortably intimate gathering, but you’re also not inviting them to a big event that probably fees like a huge sales pitch to them. Mid-sized missional communities can create space that feels “spiritual but not religious,” to cop a cliche.
“Mid-sized communities could bring a better collection of gifting and talent than a single small group… A mid-sized group could host really great local events for worship, service, art, and fun.”
Yes! Mid-sized missional communities are both small enough and big enough. Everyone, children included, can be known and contribute meaningfully to the mission of the group (which is a key aspect to helping people grow in discipleship). But because it’s larger than a small group, the community is able to accomplish more substantial things.
“Mid-sized communities offer opportunities to truly focus on particular neighborhoods or niches.”
Exactly. A church that exists as a decentralized network of mid-sized communities can be both incredibly diverse in expression and beautifully unified in purpose and vision. As people get vision to serve new contexts, they are equipped and released to be incarnationally present in that context in ways that make sense for that context, yet they are still connected to a larger whole, a hub of resource, leadership, training, and experience.
My friend Dan asked if this tends to produce somewhat homogeneous communities. In my limited experience, I would generalize that the communities usually reflect the same kind of diversity (or lack thereof) of their mission context. Since each community is focused on a relational network or neighborhood, it really depends on who they are seeking to “live among.” However, the missional communities are networked together in relationship, purpose, and vision, so each community does rub shoulders with other communities that might be very different racially, socio-economically, and culturally. The decentralized-yet-networked approach promises the best of both worlds, I think: diverse incarnational expression and unified vision and resourcing.
I’ll finish the post by responding to another excellent question Dan asked: “How far can the right size take us?”
Being the “right size” is definitely not all there is to it. Unless a group knows how to listen to and keep in step with the Spirit, it will ultimately fail. Jesus seemed pretty serious about that whole “without me you can do nothing” thing. The foundation of missional communities must be living in the power of the Spirit and walking in obedience to Jesus.
But being the “right size” might be much more important than we realize. David Fitch talks a bit about this in a post on “seeding missional communities,” which is very similar to what I am talking about in planting new missional communities:
We recognize that relationships are essential to the gospel and that when we increase the size of gatherings/buildings, organizational infrastructure to accommodate more and more people, we LOSE THE INHERENT ABILITY TO ORGANICALLY BE INVOLVED IN PEOPLE’S LIVES WHO ARE OUTSIDE THE GOSPEL [Fitch utilizes capital letters for emphasis, a lot]. We recognize then that when we get over a certain size, all we end up doing is making the goods and services of being a Christian more accessible and convenient for already existing Christians. We have no other option then, when we get too big, to ask fifteen or twenty people to leave and go be missionaries to dechurched places in post Christendom. This used to be called church planting. We often now call it “seeding missional communities.”
In other words, I don’t think that being “the right size” by itself takes us very far at all, but I do think that being “the wrong size” hinders the Spirit more than we realize. Thus missional communities.
Next time I’ll look a bit more practically at how we are planning to move toward this kind of model, answering some of the questions people asked about the “organizational” side of all this. That is, how do you organize so as to serve and facilitate life, instead of using life to prop up the organization?
Next post –> Is Structure a Dirty Word?
I love this stuff. really great. thanks.
Luke Dalach says
Great series Ben. I like your thoroughness and how you are hitting different angles. Have though much about how these mid-sized communities could exist related to physical gathering spaces? Seems to me that the early church gatherings were in larger, open-spaced houses that could fit 50 people. My house could perhaps fit 25 and certainly not that many for celebrating the Eucharist together. A backyard would work great…except that only works for 5 months of the year in the midwest 🙂
Ben Sternke says
This is definitely an issue. But not insurmountable. I have heard of groups meeting in bowling alleys, coffee shops, public schools, churches, community centers, bars, even office buildings. With a little creativity and flexibility, I think people can lots of places that will work.