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 toward 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 three core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community and 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 three 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 six people start a missional community and it has been a helpful encouragement. Fewer than six 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.