Over the past five years we’ve trained, failed, and multiplied a lot of missional communities. Several years ago we moved to a more formal training (and re-training) process to set and reset the identity and commitments for each missional community. We found this is important because it’s human nature to drift from your values and commitments.
A group may start off with bold aims for engaging non-Christians with gospel hope, showing mercy to their city, and being a “family” not meeting. When we set out with these aims, we’re driving upstream, against our self-centered, cliquish cultural current. However, everyone experiences mission and community drift. In order to remain focused and stay behind Jesus, not cultural currents, we need reminders, guides, and communally formed commitments. This is why we created a Missional Community Primer.
Every missional community goes through the Primer at the beginning of the year.
The process is very conversational, with the aim of applying our core values into clear, firm commitments
In Austin City Life, we like to say that City Groups are where the church is the church to one another and to the city. This kind of “church” is rare. Unfortunately, much of American ecclesiology has devolved into an inflexible structure that facilitates attendance—a church building. Church equals building or Sunday service. This defective ecclesiology approaches “church” as an event not as a people. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis offer a helpful corrective: “Church is not two events during the week. It is a gospel-centered community on mission.” City Groups are meant to facilitate gospel-centered community on mission. They are where we can be church to one another and the city.
Why Sunday Isn’t Enough
While Sunday gatherings of the church are important, they are an incomplete experience of what the New Testament describes as church. It is impossible to carry out Paul’s “one another” instructions to the church in the context of an hour and a half on a Sunday morning. Therefore, we need some kind of structure to facilitate loving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging one another, forgiving one another, forbearing with one another, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. City Groups are meant to facilitate this kind of “life together.” They are flexible church structures designed to facilitate the people of God living out their intended life together. While City Groups are not a “purer” expression of church than Sunday gatherings, they are a much-neglected expression of church in North America.
Steady State Community
What then does “life together” look like? City Groups are encouraged to view church, not as two events during the week, but as a steady state of community. Instead of seeing community as something that primarily happens during a meeting, we need to adjust ourselves to see all of life as community. Steady state community is a constant flow of social, gospel, and missional connections throughout the week. It’s not adding special “community building” events to your already full calendar. It’s inviting people into your existing calendar. Invite people into your life not just to your City Group meetings.
*This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: City Groups: Gospel-centered Missional Community.
Through failure and success we’ve developed three clear criteria for health gospel-centered missional communities. Whether a new missional community is formed “out of nothing” or one of our existing groups is ready to multiply, there are three things new groups must have in place before forming:LEADER, a CORE, and a MISSION.
1 LEADER/ A called and qualified leader.
This leader must sense a) God’s call, b) complete the Missional Leader Readiness form, c) meet the leadership qualifications and d) complete City Group Leaders Training.
2 CORE/ A healthy community living out gospel-centered missional community.
Healthy communities are a core of people that a) practice steady state community b) are engaged in mission, c) share leadership and d) keep the gospel central. An initial core size must be at least 6-8.
3 MISSION/ A new group starts with a clear missional focus.
The City Group should be aligned with a local non-profit to serve monthly, or focus on engaging a particular group of Austinites. This clearly defined mission must be accompanied by a plan for engagement. Whether you work with a non-profit or not, your ultimate missional focus should be people. Identify a people group and develop a plan to engage them with the gospel.