This is the question that the Verge Network
has been asking a number of leaders on their website, and this is the question
that many churches around the country and world are asking, and this is the question I deal with on a daily basis as someone who oversees Community Groups, which we view as gospel communities on mission.
It’s a vital question for the church, which is typically seen as a Sunday event and maybe a small group bible study or Sunday school. Somewhere along the way, the common understanding of church became a place to go instead of a people who are going. A place to attend, instead of a people with a message to extend. The gospel was never to be kept inside of a church building, but was meant to define all of a Christian’s life and then lived out in a community that seeks to love and care for others.
The origins of the Missional Community idea are found in Acts chapter 2 in the scriptures that show a community responding to the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection by being devoted to God, devoted to one another, and devoted to including their friends and neighbors in the good news. Church history shows us St. Patrick who lived this out in a community that eventually evangelized all of Ireland this way.
So now the church is asking, what happened? How do we return to being a people that extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ, the good news of a good Savior to the world around us? How does missions become normal and local instead of being seen as only an overseas endeavor?
In comes Missional Community. The name spells it out, a community of people that live on mission together. But as the Verge Network has proved with their question, every church & leader has their own way of living it out.
Ultimately Missional Community is about principles more than it is about exact practicals. The various definitions and forms that happen all over the country and world all carry the same principles but are practically lived out differently depending on leadership and context.
Those primary principles appear to be:
1. Gospel Identity: Everyone in the world lives defined by a certain identity. For the church & those in missional communities, that identity is found as someone saved by Jesus Christ’s work, not our efforts, and then sent as missionaries into the world. We’re not just blessed by God in Christ, we are also meant to be a blessing to others. We are missionaries because God is a missionary and we get to represent what He is like.
2. Community on Mission: Missional Communities is an acknowledgement that our salvation is not an individual, “me & my God” thing, but we are saved into a family or community that cares for one another and serves others together. When a community receives good news, it shares good news.
3. Gather around Mission: The missional community gathers around a specific evangelistic mission. Whether that’s a specific affinity group that everyone cares for or a geographic area where they live, each community has a specific group of people they want to extend the love of Christ to & serve them with the deeds of Christ. I’ve recently seen a greater emphasis on proximity rather than affinity.
4. Discipleship is the key to sustainability: In the past, churches relied on a singular dynamic leader & in some instances that is still the case, but missional communities focuses on enabling every person to be a missionary & minister (or leader) in serving other people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missional communities will only be as missional as their discipleship. Are they creating & enabling more people to be leaders? Are they making it simple & transferable? If not, it won’t last.
5. Multiplication: The goal of a missional community is not to grow large in numbers of people, but to create new expressions of community & compassionate mission. They see as their end, multiplying into many communities and spreading the gracious message of Jesus to as many people as possible.
As I mentioned earlier, various churches and leaders do it differently and summarize it in a variety of ways. Typically focuses on core values as they define their practice.
The Austin Stone has God, Gospel, Mission. Austin City Life, Soma Communities, Kaleo San Diego, & The Crowded House, from England, have formed the GCM Collective to share resources centered around Gospel, Community, & Mission.
3DM, originally from England, has Up, In, Out. Neil Cole says Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, Apostolic Mission. JR Woodward lists 5 things. Felicity Dale summarizes it as a multiplying family that shares life together on mission. Christian Community Church in Chicago, which puts on Exponential which is centered around the idea of Missional Communities this year uses the terms Grow, Connect, Expand.
If I understood what Alan Hirsch was saying half the time, I might be able to summarize it similarly, but his accent entrances me. I know he is saying profound and great things, I just have trouble summarizing it. His latest book, Right Here, Right Now, is fantastic and summarizes the movements of a Missional Community as Move Out, Move In, Move Alongside, Move From.
The practicals of all of these leaders in this idea vary, but the principles do not. Practicals range from size, house church or megachurch, content, location, discipleship methods, and on and on, but the principles are the necessary components for each individual church and leader to wrestle with and define in their context. The message and principles must be contextualized rather than merely adopting the practicals.
The non-negotiable is that to be a Christian is be a career missionary alongside a community and Missional Community or whatever you call it has become to most effective means for churches to live out this truth to our world.