“Missional” is one of the biggest buzz words in contemporary Christianity. There are a lot of books on theory but very few guides that actually lay out the nuts and bolts of how our faith can be lived out in missional communities that go beyond the Sunday morning experience. Mike Breen and Alex Absalom have provided us with such a guide that lays out the mission of the church, asks how it is being done via the institutional model of congregational life and then gives a strategy for how to get Christians more invested and involved in the mission of the church as laid out in scripture. Their book is called Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide and it is a must read book if you work with small groups or oversee missions in your congregation.
Based on who they site and how often they bring in outside resources in making their points, these guys have really done their homework. This book is well researched from the theory side and that knowledge is balanced in practice as this book is the culmination of many years of work trying to construct a model that worked. But what is most important in all of this is their concern for scripture. Just because two or three scholars say the same thing doesn’t make it so. What I love about this book is that their conclusions as to what the very best model for congregational life should be like and what is most effective is the biblical one!
In section 2.3 Breen and Absalom talk about why they didn’t use the traditional small group model of the 6-12 personal ideal. While that model of small groups is often touted as biblical (and it is) it is not always mentioned that many house churches were actually quite a bit larger than that and could accommodate 50 people or more within one house church. Their model uses groups of 20-50 people to build missional communities. In doing so they avoid some of the common pitfalls that often plague the traditional small group model including (from p.42):
- “They often refused the call (to be more missional) and continued to stay inwardly focused, or
- There was never enough momentum due to the size, and burnout soon ensued.”
- Groups can typically only multiply 3 times and then they don’t want to go through it again. So the small group model, if done as effectively as possible, has a short lifespan before it naturally slows done and may lose part of its purpose of being out-focused.
They point out that the small group model that so many of us have been a part of focus on getting things more spiritually intimate. What I mean by that is having discussions on a deeper level so that we can really impact the lives of those in the group in a way that just can’t happen in an auditorium full of 500+ people on Sunday morning. They point out that just as a married couple needs to have more than private intimacy to have a healthy relationship, Christians also need more spaces together than just intimate environments to grow. We don’t always have to be talking about deep, heavy, or private matters in order to grow our relationships with each other.
They focus on four areas or spaces they believe are important in the life of a missional community with each space getting progressively closer in contact or distance than the last: public, social, personal and intimate space. They believe these four spaces are found in scripture and should be reflected in the life of the church. Each space serves a different purpose and each has a different outcome expected of it. When these four things work in unison the outcomes can be powerful. No one space is sufficient to meet all of our diverse needs as human beings. And yet, many churches get focused on one or two to the neglect of the rest.
Alex gives one example from his experience visiting a church where the values of the different levels of space were confused. He talks about walking into a church for the first time and getting hugged by all sorts of people in the lobby before he ever got into the auditorium. He says that was not a “wise course of action in a public space.” It would be perfectly appropriate in a more personal or intimate level of space with a smaller number of people who have already built relationships with each other on some level. The point is, we need to have room for all levels of interaction so that we can accomplish important aspects of our lives as Christians on a wide spectrum of depth with each other.
More on this book in several upcoming posts. If you would like to read more about Missional Communities have a look at Mike’s blog or Alex’s blog at the links above.