Let’s make an assumption. Let’s say you’re here because you want to know how to get started with missional communities or because you’ve started down that path but you’re frustrated and wondering whether you’ve started in the wrong direction.
In this post we want to suggest that when you’re just beginning down the road of missional communities, there might be one road that’s easier than others…
But first, what exactly is a Missional Community?
There are any number of answers to the question, what is a Missional Community? Many people talk about MCs and all in slightly different ways but for our purposes, we’ll lean on the definition found in Leading Missional Communities by Mike Breen and the 3DM Team:
“A Missional Community is a group of approximately 20 to 40 people who are seeking to reach a particular neighborhood or network of relationships with the good news of Jesus.”
We also know MCs are supposed to be lightweight and low-maintenance enough to be led by lay people and they absolutely need a clear vision for mission. It’s this “vision for mission” that we want to focus on for this post. Our working definition states that an MC is seeking to reach a particular neighborhood or network. Many people we are coaching stop there and end up defining a “what” for mission. Although the “what” is an important part of the equation, it should be secondary to the “who” of our mission.
Let’s put it this way, a vision for mission is answering two questions. First, WHO is God calling your community to reach and then WHAT does the good news look like for that group of people. The WHO should be specific. It should be a group of people who share a common location (neighborhood) or a common activity or interest (network).
So if you’re new to the vehicle of missional communities and want to use them as a way to journey towards the vision of Family on Mission, you might ask, “where is the best place to start, network or neighborhood?” — does it make a difference?
We’re glad you asked, we think it does make a difference.
We think starting with a neighborhood makes the most sense for a couple of reasons. One is biblical and the other is merely practical. However, this is not a hard and fast rule and we’re not saying there is a “right” or “wrong” way to start. We just want to make our case and you can decide whether it makes sense.
First, let’s take a look at Jesus’ instructions to his disciples when he is sending them out after the resurrection:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts of the Apostles 1:8
Jesus gave this charge to his disciples who were located in Jerusalem at the time. Jerusalem was their “home” for the moment, which was located within the larger area of Judea. Samaria was the closest location filled with “others”. It wasn’t a huge stretch but it did represent a cross-cultural step. We don’t want to make this into a bigger deal than it is, but we do think we can say that geography matters.
It may seem obvious but we think it’s of some significance that Jesus basically said to the disciples, start where you are. Start in Jerusalem and once you’ve got some traction move out to the surrounding areas of Judea. I’m sending you to the “ends of the earth” but first figure out how to be my witness right where you are.
Geography matters and though you might individually spend more time in a location that is not your home or neighborhood, you can’t do family on mission without the family part. Even if you’re single (like Jesus), you need to start by building a family (like Jesus did) and the common denominator for most families is the home. Geography matters because your home is located somewhere. Where your home is located is your neighborhood and your neighborhood is your “Jerusalem”. Jesus said to his disciples, start being my witnesses right where you are geographically.
We’re not saying it’s wrong to start a missional community that reaches out to your workplace, or some third place, or some broken place. We’re just suggesting that the example of the earliest Jesus followers of starting where you are geographically still makes sense. In fact, we think it makes even more sense today, which leads us to the practical reason we suggest starting with neighborhood missional communities.
Practically speaking, living life together as a family on mission is hard in our culture. Can I get an amen!? The extended family size household that we (in 3DM circles) refer to with the term “oikos” already existed when Jesus poured new meaning into it by leading, teaching and training his disciples in just such a “family”. It was normal life. It was normal to live life with a group of 20 to 40 people made up of both blood and non-blood relationships. It was the only way life worked. So the fact that Jesus called his disciples into life in just such an “oikos” would have seemed normal. There were a lot of things about life with Jesus that were likely very abnormal, but going about on a daily basis as an extended family was not one of them.
These days, living life together with such an oikos is not normal. It’s just not in any way normal life for the vast majority of us. In fact, what does pass for normal life puts all kinds of barriers in the way of living life with an extended family size group of people. History has proven that an oikos radically following the ways of Jesus and pursuing kingdom mission is a force to be reckoned with. If we want to unleash that force in the communities God has called us to, then we have to first learn how to live as an oikos.
After years of experimenting ourselves and coaching others, we can say without hesitation that it is a far easier task to begin learning how to live this way among people who live physically near you (your neighbors). It’s easier to learn how and it’s easier to invite others to imitate your example.
It’s easier to walk next door or down the block to eat together every week than to pack up your vehicle with your family and the food you’ve cooked and drive across town. Don’t underestimate the value of proximity when it comes to living life together! It’s easier to do mission when those whom you’re trying to reach with the gospel are the people you see while you’re out mowing the lawn or getting the mail. It’s just easier to actually get started with predictable patterns of life together, and that’s all we’re really talking about – where to start.
We’re not saying that God isn’t calling us to the “ends of the earth”, we’re just saying that maybe God is calling us to start right where we live.