A missional community is an extended family size group of people living life together for the good of a specific neighborhood or network of people. They are shaped by regular rhythms of connecting with God (up), with each other (in), and with the people God has called them to love (out). It sounds simple enough but as I talk to church leaders around North America, one thing is growing painfully clear: it’s a lot harder than it sounds and the failure rate is higher than many of us would like to admit.
There are lots of reasons why a missional community might fail. However there is one mistake that is beginning to stand out above all the others. It’s predictable, I see it over and over again and it has a tendency to dramatically limit your success with missional communities right from the very start.
Here is my thesis:
Your missional community is more likely to fail by asking too little than by asking too much from the people you start with.
I understand that “busyness” has become an epidemic in our culture. I understand the temptation to think we need to meet people where they are at, and where they are at is a full and frantic pace of life that is over-scheduled and over-stretched. So if we want people to “live life together”, then we should start small with a modest request on their already busy schedules… right? Wrong.
The problem with that line of thinking is that your request to meet once or twice a month will just become one more thing to “fit in” to an already frenetic schedule. Just one more thing to stick on the calendar. Just another church event that’s good but optional. Just one more thing we have to keep track of which week it happens and which it doesn’t. It never quite becomes a predictable part of our lives and we’re left having to always double-check the calendar to see if we can squeeze something in on the “off weeks”. This is not how a family is formed.
The solution is to ask more
The goal of a missional community is to create a family not a program. A family endures. It’s flexible and dynamic and the inevitable result of a family is reproduction (more families). Knowing this changes what you look for in leaders and first followers alike. To butcher a well-known quote, many people can run a program, but very few can build a family. Missional communities are the training wheels that we probably won’t need once we figure out how to live life together for the good of our neighbors.
So how do you actually get started then? How do you build a family? Well, think about an actual blood family. If a family is struggling, the solution is not less time together. The solution (or at least part of it) is more time together, both quantity and quality. If you want to build a family on mission, then you need to spend more time together. Imagine if you were starting a new church, would you ever consider gathering for corporate worship just once or twice a month?
Everyone has to eat anyway
Seriously, you have to eat anyway, so eat together once a week. There are all sorts of ways to make this less work than just eating on your own (and we promise to cover those in other posts). Pick a day, open up your home (just the way it is) and invite people to come and eat together. It’ll be hard at first. It’ll be hard for a good long while, but no one will have to wonder if it’s happening this week or not and eventually people will begin to just consider that day the day they eat together. They’ll begin to make it more often than they miss it and they’ll actually begin to miss it when they don’t make it.
You will make all sorts of mistakes along the way (I know I do) but in my experience, it is a lot easier to adjust and change course if you have this one predictable pattern in place. Not everyone will be able to instantly live into this pattern, but keep inviting them in and let them know the family will be there every week eating together when they do have time.
I’ll say it again, the goal should be families on mission not programs. And if you’re going after a missional movement (as is all the rage these days) then you should keep in mind that healthy families naturally create more families. Predictable patterns of life together are how families take shape. Set your patterns and call people to live into it. Lead the way and show people who it’s possible and trust that others will follow.
People make room for what’s important
We make room for all sorts of things on a daily and weekly basis because they’re important. If you begin your missional community by meeting once or twice a month, you subtly communicate that it’s not important and people will have a tendency to avoid making room for it.
I’m sure that I’ve offended a few people along the way here. I’m sure that some of you are thinking that I can’t possibly understand your context and the hopelessly busy lives of your people. You’re right, I don’t know your people like you do, but Jesus knows them. Jesus knew the temptation of the human heart toward half measures and repeatedly called his followers to drop everything in order to live life with him as a disciple.
Could it really be too much to ask your people to eat together once a week?
Just be sure to let them help clean it all up at the end of the night (they’ll need reminding just like your kids) or you’ll be repeatedly hosting guests in your home instead of building a family!