Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Missional Community on a Napkin

When people talk about "missional community," the first thing you had better do is ask what they mean. Some use this as a label to describe task groups that are reaching out and ministering to a specific group of people or location. Others use it to refer to a group of 20-50 people, a mid-sized group, that has a mission beyond just living in community; in other words it refers to a specific structure. Reggie McNeal uses these words to describe what he calls a "post-congregational" church experience, which basically means that the coming of the missional community experience marks a shift from a centralized, building-centered church to a scattered one.

While these description of missional community can be helpful for church leaders to understand their purpose and structure, I've not found them to be that compelling when talking with grass-roots people. That is, the regular people in the church who want to see God move through and even those  who do not attend a church anywhere don't really care that much about our talk about structures. How do we talk about missional community with them?

Here's a napkin approach, one that speaks to the experience of missional community, not to structures, nor to the problems with the traditional church. In other words, it casts a vision by telling a story about the life of missional community. It's a simple drawing of three overlapping circles that looks like this:
Draw one circle at a time, starting with Commune, and explain what each means. For Commune,  say something like: "We are a group of people who connect with God in a real way so that we can be a conduit of God's love to the world." For Relate, say something like: "We relate to one another in a way that might be described as a healthy family. In other words, we are more than a weekly Bible study."

Engage could be described in this way, "As a group, we are committed to joining God in turning the world right. We do this by _______________(insert your own ways of doing this.)"

Now groups and churches of all kinds have done these three things. But usually they are done independently of one another, like a list of to do's that are not connected. Missional community is different. It is an experience, a story, of how these three rhythms of life together overlap with one another to make a difference in the a neighborhood and in the lives of those we know. Missional community is an organic experience that arises as these three circles overlap. This is depicted by the blue part in the middle.

This is what I explore in my book Missional Small Groups. In it, I'm seeking to cast a vision for much more than a structure, even though the title uses the label "small groups." Let's quit talking about structures first. Let's find ways of talking about the experience, the story, that will capture the imagination and compel people to change their lives so that they can get involved with what God is doing in the world.

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