Yesterday, I wrote about the typical life cycle of a missional community within an area where there is an existing gospel presence from the church. The typical group goes through stages of formation, fun, messiness, mission, and multiplication, but if the church is called to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to areas of their city where there isn’t a gospel presence, new missional communities must be started in new areas.
There have been leaders at Apostles Church who have started Community Groups in new areas and we have set up some of them for success, but did not help others well. One of the important things is properly preparing them for the hard work of establishing a new gospel-centered community in an area where there isn’t a lot of support in terms of numbers of people. The process for establishing the community is lengthier and the tasks much different.
I’m thankful to the men and women of our church who have loved their neighborhood so much they would start a community with less support than usual in hopes of seeing a gospel presence there eventually. One example is Joe Khalil on Staten Island, who has not only been faithful in serving our church immensely, but has been faithful in loving his neighborhood. There have been exciting days for Joe and there have been challenging days for him and his Community Group. I am so encouraged by his leadership and his love for his neighborhood.
The Sunday gatherings for Apostles Church serve communities well that have easy access to the gathering, but they are not easy to access from Staten Island. Joe has consistently gone the extra mile to bring people, to consistently reach out to those in the community and he is beginning to see the fruit of his labor and love for Staten Island.
A comfort for Joe and many in our church who start Community Groups in our area is what has happened in Brooklyn. Brooklyn used to have 1 Community that was thriving and 1 that consistently struggled to gather people but has become a thriving collection of 4 Community Groups in need of at least 2 more and even in need of a local worship gathering.
From my perspective, I’ve seen these new communities face the following challenges that others have not faced.
Establishing a Committed Core
While the aim numerically for starting a new Community Group is between 6-10 people, these communities usually start with 2-4 people. If someone can’t make it, it could be a lonely night discussing scripture with just you. Establishing a committed core happens with every community, but establishing in a new area that isn’t familiar with this community approach takes a lot longer. It requires patient and very intentional pursuit from the leader of the Community Group.
The frustrations come when the leader starts to feel that they have made some strides and have some consistent members, only to find it back to the original few a couple of months later. I’ve seen new Community Groups ebb and flow with establishing this committed core for over a year before beginning to see the committed core formed and consistency established.
Part of this is the result of a kind of urban sprawl of Christian community. When a viable, consistent gospel community presence has longevity it begins to grow.
Persevering for the Urban Sprawl of Christian Community
This requires great perseverance. I remember meeting with Community Group leaders from further out in Brooklyn who had experienced growth and decline multiple times and found themselves back to their original leaders after almost 2 years.
Over the course of the next 9 months they grew to the point of being full and exploring multiplication. It was amazing and a lot of it had to do with longevity of gospel-centered presence. They weren’t giving up and desired to see a Community Group in their neighborhood so bad they endured the highs and the lows. This perseverance made them a viable and healthy option for community, proving that you can be connected to our church, live in that neighborhood and still enjoy a thriving gospel-centered community and mission.
While the Sunday gathering can be seen as supplemental to community life, having a local worship gathering can propel gospel-centered communities on mission to their neighborhood.
But where a gathering does not exist, establishing this type of community takes a while and it can be emotionally and spiritually taxing on leaders trying to establish a community from scratch. They need encouragement and need leadership who pursues them and adopts their community as a point of prayer. There will be times when they want to give up and they may need to be reminded of why they started in the beginning.
Establishing longevity cannot be rushed and it communicates a love for the local neighborhood simply through presence. We live in a time where it can be easy to move on to something new, so perseverance in love speaks a great truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as God patiently deals with us.
Faithful to Grow Slowly into the Life Cycle
Eventually these new communities will experience growth and any growth must be celebrated. Small growth is great growth in new and more challenging areas. Slow growth eventually builds on itself over time and through faithfulness by the leaders.
God’s ultimate call for every leader is faithfulness to what He has given them. In these new areas, he has called these leaders to be faithful with the few even as they seek more people. This faithfulness develops them into leaders who celebrate success as gospel and not merely numeric growth. When Community Group leaders are faithful with a few it is evidence that they will eventually be faithful with many, which exactly what Jesus speaks to in His parables.
This slow growth eventually moves them to the life cycle I mentioned yesterday and they begin to face those similar challenges.
The Growth of the Leader
This process of starting something new has the greatest affect on the leaders themselves. It can be hard and have some negative affects, but for those who press into God and fellow leaders in the church community they experience much growth. Persevering through highs and lows develops character, an understanding of scriptural truth and wisdom that cannot be taught in a classroom.
The personal growth I’ve seen in many of these leaders has made them some of our best leaders. For the groups right now that are starting in new areas, I see them facing the challenges mentioned above, but I am also hopeful for the type of people it will make them as they depend on God and ask for Him to grow their Community Group.
The Benefit for the Church
The church benefits greatly when these leaders step out into new territory. They remind us that the gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to go beyond its current boundaries and be extended to everyone. This does not allow us to become complacent and satisfied with our current state, but challenges us to dream of the blessings parts of our city are missing when they lack a gospel-centered, Jesus-like community presence.
These leaders have much to teach us about extending the gospel and continually extending invites to the community.
I was once challenged to start a missional community from scratch at my workplace or in my neighborhood when I lived in Austin. It was one of the most challenging and easily the time where I learned the most. I never saw the missional community grow into the life cycle stage as we moved away from Austin before even forming the community.
The challenge of that experience causes me to greatly value the patience, perseverance, and efforts of these leaders of gospel-centered communities on mission to new areas. I love celebrating with them even the smallest measure of success and encouraging them to push through the challenges and setbacks. The gospel of Jesus Christ is worth it.