It is one thing to grasp and get excited about a vision for missional communities and a completely different thing to go about forming missional communities. The vision for gospel-centered communities on mission is compelling, exciting, and stirs us within towards embodying scriptural truth. I find it hard not to be attracted to pursuing this vision.
But it’s not easy. Forming missional communities can be immensely challenging and even transitioning from an existing small group model to missional communities can be a massive challenge.
As people grasp this vision in our church, we try our best to assist them in thinking through the key components that will allow them to move from vision to reality.
This question has multiple levels to it.
Are the leaders starting this for a reason other than faithfulness to God? Are they looking to cultivate a gospel presence on mission to their neighborhood or is this a religious act? This isn’t a test for the leader, but a gospel confrontation to seek their own spiritual health and alignment with God. Leaders must know that starting, sustaining, and leading a missional community is about faithfulness to God and not to a bunch of community tasks.
The other level concerns the vision for the community. Why is this community forming? Why in this neighborhood and why these people? Vision is essential for any community or it will not go anywhere, let alone form into a community that loves one another well and loves their neighbors well. This type of community doesn’t just happen because people who love Jesus are in the same room. There must be a vision, but there must also be so plan for what the community will do.
Our church has 3 core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission. These are the principles our community groups are centered around, but each community group will see these accomplished differently based on the people in their community and their local neighborhood.
We encourage the leaders to think through what they would like to see the community do to cultivate these core values. As they gather as a community we encourage them to ask questions and discuss how everyone in the community sees these core values becoming a reality for the community. This usually requires the community to confront changes to their lifestyles that will need to take place for the community to flourish in these 3 areas.
This question also deals with what is the community group going to actually do to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to their neighbors. Many of them seek to establish presence through consistent meals and others start by seeking to serve their neighborhood in tangible ways. For every community, it eventually evolves to truly meet the needs of their neighborhood, but every community must start with a plan of what they are going to do.
This also has multiple layers.
Who is going with you? Jonathan Dodson had some great advice on this for our community. He recommended having no fewer than 6 people start a missional community and it has been a helpful encouragement. Fewer than 6 decreases the spheres in reaching out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers and doesn’t provide a sustainable base. The flipside is being careful to avoid being full before ever starting. You want to have a solid core, but also empty seats as a reminder of mission. I’m thankful to his guidance in this area and in many other ways.
Who are you going to? This is the next layer. This isn’t a vague neighborhood description; this is the names of people you care about. These are people you desire to experience quality relationships centered on the gospel, to discuss your faith with whether their faith differs or not, and those people you genuinely desire to serve.
Prep Time and Cast Vision
As a community begins, we encourage them to prepare for the first get together by thinking through the vision for the community. The majority of this vision comes from answering the questions above, but the first gathering of the community is not merely the leader sharing. The first gathering must be centered on the leader sharing the vision, but also forming the vision as a community. This involves letting the community speak into and establish the collective vision.
The entire community must take ownership of the vision. These first few gatherings are typically Christ followers who are discussing the core values being fleshed out to their neighborhood.
As the community group moves forward, we encourage the leadership to continually share leadership in the various ways the community life is functioning. From sharing the discussion lead-role to inviting people to use their gifts in hospitality, mercy, or even prophecy to benefit the community as a whole. Each person has value to the community and the community will be lacking until each individual seeks to use their unique gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of the whole. A community of contributors is formed through all seeing themselves as leaders toward the collective vision of the missional community.
This formation stage lays the groundwork for the future of the community. Taking the time to consider its direction is essential for long-term health and avoiding massive corrective transitions in the future.
We have not always done well in preparing leaders, but have learned not to be quick to form new missional communities, that we must be thoughtful in our approach as a church. Too much thought can delay momentum and movement, but too little will destroy it altogether.
Forming missional communities requires thoughtful assessment of how the gospel of Jesus Christ shapes a community to extend grace and mercy to their neighbors.