Five Questions for my “Missional Community” Friends

25 05 2008

So I’ve been pondering this recent iteration of church many I know are developing which seems to go like this –

  • Start a worship-service(s)
  • Identity leaders
  • Have the leaders form “missional communities”
  • Create advance training programs for leaders
  • Use missional communities to create the small community feel for your church and serve the city/neighborhood (which is the missional part)

Most likely an oversimplification but here are my questions about the overall approach

1. Why apply the word “church” to your network instead of the missional communities themselves?  If people are living 1 Cor. 12 body life in these missional communities, then why promote the worship service expression as a church instead of the body?

2. Isn’t using the phrase “missional community” itself a reactive statement?  Most people in our generation feel the biggest problems with the modern church is a lack of community and a lost focus on mission.  But when you create a model designed to counter-balance the mistake of one generation you’re doomed to over correct and miss other essentials (see below).

3. In this model isn’t discipleship destined to become the 3rd wheel?  Your typical member will be attending weekly worship services and weekly missional community gatherings, so how can discipleship training be a primary focus for 100% of your people?

4. Are you sure that a worship service is the best way to gather people?  I fear many of you guys almost immediately outgrow your ability to disciple and enfold the people you are gathering.  The minute you achieve the “new cool church in town” status I’m concerned the maintenance requirements for these numbers will begin to tweak your model in an unwanted direction.

5. Are you designing a church that you (or some other paid person) will have to indefinitely maintain?  If you could structure a church that could grow and reproduce without paid staff and those of us with 5-fold callings could build new works isn’t this better for the Kingdom?  Paul did it this way why shouldn’t we (or have we found a better way than Paul)?

I’m writing this because I feel closer to you guys than any other group I know but I can’t figure out why we differ on these things.  Your help is appreciated!



21 responses

27 05 2008

Thanks for the questions and for doing some thinking on this.

1. Most people who are really doing missional communities are doing it out of missional ecclesiology and don’t call the service church. In fact, they go out of their way to use different language. We do.

2. It’s not really a reactive statement, though there are certainly those who are grabbing a popular statement/concept and trying to work it into their church without sufficiently addressing their ecclesiology as a whole. Missional community has been around for quite a while. See Ed Stetzer’s work on missional. That said, if missional communities aren’t Jesus-centered, then they are just another flash in the pan counterbalance. With the gospel of Christ shaping communities that are missional what we have are more of the church being the church to one another and the world.

3. Again, it depends on who is using the term/concept and how they are applying it. There are more and more pseudo-missional communities that are not gospel centered or ecclesiologically consistent with the rest of the body. Discipleship can be very integral to missional communities. It is for Soma, Kaleo, and for us.

4.I have no idea who you are addressing here, so forgive my ignorance. Again, it seems like your questions are geared around pseudo-missional communities or MCs that are not part of a greater ecclesiological whole. Read the websites of Soma Church, Tacoma; Kaleo, San Diego, Providence, Plano; Austin City Life. These churches are not service driven; they are built on missional ecclesiology.

Grace to you in your wrestlings,


27 05 2008
Drew Goodmanson


While the order you listed is how we ended up where we are, it isn’t what I’d recommend now. I’d

1) Start a MC (Missional Community)
2) Disciple the people & lead them on mission
3) Identify leaders that emerge from this
4) Replicate the MC with training of these leaders while they lead.
5) Create a service where the MC’s can come together and celebrate. (After 4-5 exist)


29 05 2008
Jason Reid


Drew’s list is exactly what I’m planning. We are firmly at stage 1, forming the community using our family as the base. Our intention is to draw others into this who would share the same values as us, then proceeding as a small community on mission. As we develop the mission, potential leaders for the next community can be identified and grown. I anticipate that a service (if that) will only come from the need to gather the MCs together occasionally to maintain relationships and provide strategic direction and teaching.

Enjoy grace

29 05 2008

JD – Thanks for your response!

1. But why not call the MC’s a “church” or “body” and make that clear ecclessiological distinction? Why draw a circle around a bunch of programs that include the service and a number of MC’s and call that church? Especially in light of 1 Cor. 12 that defines the local church as an interdependent body (which, in the MC model, can only be done at the MC level).

2, 3 & 4. Your point seems to be here it depends on the strength and vision of the MC. This is one reason I think intense, systematic discipleship training should PROCEED & continue during someone’s commitment to a church body (read: MC).

Drew – I REALLY like that MC’s proceed the worship service. Agree 100% with this but, as I said to JD, why shouldn’t intense discipleship training be the first thing (PROCEED involvement in the MC)? Thus it would look like –

1. Engage people in intense, systematic Discipleship training.
2. Those who confess Lordship form organically MCs (read: church)
3. Identify the 5-fold and give special training. Some will lead training at the DTC (discipleship training center) and some will be sent out.
4. MC’s reproduce as they are grown and strengthed by the DTC.
5. Worship services are created with 3-5 MCs come together (as well as other Kingdom ministries as people discover what special work God has given each on (Eph. 2:10).

Your new order resolves my biggest struggle with the MC model (starting with a worship service) but my other struggle is that, when you push church down into this smaller gathering, you need Christians at a high level of discipleship. Are you sure you’re using tools strong enough to accomplish this?

Jason – I’d love to have a chance to discuss with you discipleship strategies that will make phase 1 so much more fruitful if you’re interested. We spent 3 years gathering like-minded people into multiple MC’s but switched recently to training disciples first and then forming MCs (we call them bodies or body churches) out of disciples who were trained and in training and it is 1000% better. We’re growing faster, deeper and far more united.

29 05 2008
Jason Reid

Yes please, I would appreciate that – let me the best format for you, I’m on skype and have a old fashioned telephone somewhere. I’m even not adversed to writing the odd letter. Jase

30 05 2008
Drew Goodmanson

(Jeremy) …why shouldn’t intense discipleship training be the first thing (PROCEED involvement in the MC)?

I don’t see it as an either/or. We both begin to gather as a MC and engage in active discipleship in more one-on-one or group of three levels. Again, this is calling people to a way of life shaped around the gospel as a community on mission.

31 05 2008
This Guy Gets It « Missio Dei

[…] guy is asking all the right questions.  I love […]

31 05 2008
Jonathan Brink

Jeremy, freaking awesome questions.

We birthed our communities within our church (as small groups). But as we seriously developed the discipleship structure and process, people began to seriously question what they were doing on Sunday’s. Their missional community “was” their church. This led to all kinds of question about two major obstacles we saw to effective missional community. Buildings and professionals.

These two sap 90% of the budget. Exceptions are there but they are not the norm. I found a pastor who was committing 30% of his budget to restorative mission and people were dumbfounded at that level of investment.

We asked what would happen if we removed those two obstacles. And it turned everything on its ear. We started with a projected breakdown of 10% admin, 30% community, 60% mission. The first two will likely be fluid, but when we take out the two big ones we instantly create opportunity for mission that releases people to impact the world they already live in. The 60% number makes us all bi-vocational.

When we sought council form our pastors there WAS push back. The immediate concern was starting with discipleship. Would people really do this? Even though we had 45% of adults in our church in our groups, it was tough for them to give up the Sunday idea. We took six years to develop our discipleship piece and couldn’t have taken the step towards creating new community without it. This made us realize that we needed to develop people who could be elders, who could follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to love, AND lead other people to do the same.

And now that we’re six years in, those who have stuck with it are beginning to see new possibilities, and the fruit of that slow development process. We’re getting ready to birth an entirely new community that is separate from our old church, one that begins with this new cultural ethic of participation in His mission.

31 05 2008
Michael Foster

I echo what Dodson said on 1, 2, & 3.

4. If you are committed to missional communities as kaleo, soma, & ourselves are…then the answer is no, a Sunday gathering isn’t best way to funnel people into disciple-making processes/relationships. However, a lot of this depends on your leadership base.

5. I think that the body will have a mix of unpaid/paid leaders that will be unpaid/paid for a different seasons through the time in the community. I think this is represented in the ministry of Paul pretty clearly.

31 05 2008
Michael Foster

Oops, slight correction. I meant to say:

5. I think that a body will have a mix of unpaid/paid leaders that will be unpaid/paid for different seasons throughout their time in the community.

2 06 2008

Drew – How then do you ensure you’re actually doing community with Christians? How do you know your fellow MC members have the same faith? These are two huge issues we ran up against doing the MC and discipleship at the same time. Many people (especially where you are at on the West Coast) value community and will join even if they are not interested in the Lordship of Christ. When you are forming an interdependent body and putting your life in each other’s hands I think there needs to be a certain minimal amount of training (and testing) before we form a community (covenant to live life together). The most important discovery being – have these people REALLY confessed Jesus as Lord or are they using Christianity as a means to getting their needs met (which is what they are often trained to do via institutional churches).

Jonathan – Wow! I would really like to hear more of your story and the details of your discipleship process. We appear to have a very similar approach and surprised you received the support that you did. I think the % breakdown of your resources is absolutely essential. People who keep saying “we’ll keep our worship service but just lessen its importance in our model” need to be brutally honest (like you were) about the ACTUAL resource drag it creates.

Foster – so on #4 is this actually being done by any of you guys? I think, Foster, you started enfolding people into discipleship as step #1 just recently is that right? This is a great step!

#5 – What about sending those 5-fold people out? The big question is this – “Does the model I’m building DEPEND on paid people?” If yes you can grow but only via addition (because too much depends on finding “the dude” as Driscoll says). If not you grow exponentially via multiplication (what I’m referring to as Paul’s method).

3 06 2008
Keith Watson

Great questions and discussion.
One of the things that continues to amaze me in these discussions is that many of us still think that our way is THE way or the RIGHT way or BEST way.
Certainly there are errors to avoid – like investing everything in a service. However, the Scripture is silent on the issue of starting with an MC or starting with a larger gathering. Instead, it seems that both are perhaps represented.

Also – it seems to me that the question of context should be considered in the HOW TO. In some areas of the country – deep south, where I am – if you don’t hae a gathering you are a cult and can’t be Christians! The service is highly valued. That doesn’t mean that it is our end goal or the recipient of all funding and resources – but it does mean that we must consider it in the equation.

3 06 2008

Keith – I know I was taught in seminary and Bible college that there is no “right” way to do church. Then, when we started doing it differently, all those who were doing it via worship services told us that we weren’t a church if we didn’t have a worship service. We started studying the Scriptures, especially the prescriptive passages on what the body is (like 1 Cor. 12) and discovered that most “churches” don’t meet the minimum requirements of what it means to actual be a body (like gifts equally valued and interdependent life together). There may be 100 ways to do this right but there are a million ways to do this wrong and we need to challenge each other to follow what the Bible does say about church.

To your second point we live in Northern KY, in one of the most churched cultures in the country, and we do not have a worship service. We also have friends in Atlanta, Alabama and South Virginia who are finding a lot of success doing church this way. I agree, context is important but as we have worked hard to build relationships with churches in the area, and as many of the children of people in ministry have joined us, we can overcome the cult claim. But either way you can’t allow other people’s fear of unfamiliar models to force you to change direction when trying to follow the biblical structure of church as body.

3 06 2008
Keith Watson

Yep – I agree on both points –
To challenge one another is a great thing and we have probably found far too many wrong ways to ‘do’ church.
I also agree with not letting fear force our direction.
I think that we sometimes make the mistake of focussing on the form that churches take rather than the functions. It is possible to be a large church with a primary gathering AND be healthy – as long as the functions of the church are healthy (worship, community, discipleship…). It is also possible for house churches to be healthy for the same reason. Either can equally be unhealthy as well when the healthy functions are not taking place.

Function over form. forms that best achieve function. form is contextually changeable, function is not.

4 06 2008

Keith – I agree with your points as well. One question I’ve asked a lot recently is this – “does the Bible prescribe the form (body) because it best achieves the functions of interdependent community and discipleship?” Thus, can a church choose a form that is similar to a rock concert or a non-profit organization or a Bible school and call it “church”? Does the Bible provide any limit to what forms we can put the label “church” on? My point in the post is the label “church” applies to whatever group has the forms and functions of a 1 Cor. 12 interdependent body and when you apply another label to that group (MC, small group, community group, cell group etc.) and apply the label “church” a group of ministries centered on a worship service something is often lost.

4 06 2008
Keith Watson

Last post…
My take is this – the Scripture prescribes functions –
discipleship for example
What form MUST discipleship take? There isn’t ONE single form prescribed. It can happen to some degree in a large gathering, it happens at a deeper level within the small gathering that does life together in community – still, Jesus seemed to spend a little extra with 3. Different forms – same function.
Jesus taught the multitudes (though most didn’t get it) – 120 gathered in the upper room – he had 12 – he had 3.
I think we would agree that community is key for a great number of reasons. But what does community look like? Does it always look the same? Jesus lived with his disciples – in a very literal way. Does that mean for us to be authentic community we must live together (form). I am not a Sunday School guy and our church doesn’t do Sunday School. I have seen very few Sunday school classes who have real community – BUT I have seen some! I have seen some that are INCREDIBLE. So Sunday School (the form) is not the issue – how it functions is the issue.

SO – to #3 – simply having a large gathering does not destine discipleship to become a 3rd wheel.
to #4 – you assume that having a large gathering’s aim is always to get people in with no other aims. That speaks to a church’s focus and again its functions – if getting people in is the ultimate goal, then you are screwed up from the start (a function question not form)

So – while our forms may not be same in GA as in CA or NY or Africa – our functions should be. Our challenge is to find the form that best works in our culture to achieve the functions. Or maybe I’m just an idiot.

5 06 2008

Keith – Very well put!

I would only add the observation that 95%+ of people who go out to plant churches have a form in mind and they do there best to try and accomplish the essential functions within that form. For example, if I believe that the church is relational in its essence and its function must be interdependent community would I ever start a large public worship service from the beginning, call it church and try to make it interdependent as the size swells far beyond any reasonable number for the given function.

This is the dilemma and I believe Paul solved it by prescribing a form that fits this function. When he wrote 1 Cor. 12 he was prescribing the form – body, for the church. This isn’t a cute analogy this is what a church structure looks like. You can’t rip out 1 Cor. 12 and decide to take on some other form. You will end up, no matter how hard you try, with different functional strengths.

On the other hand we can develop any number of Kingdom ministries like worship service ministries or discipleship ministries etc, and we should but if the structure (ie. form) is not the body let’s not call them all churches. Let’s give them freedom to create whatever form best fits the Kingdom function but when we do church we cannot use a form that never can result in an a body (interdependent community) and slap the “church” label on the front. We haven’t been given the freedom to alter the form (and thus the function) at that level.

5 06 2008
Church Planting Meanderings &laquo Missional Church Network

[…] From Eden to Zion and “Five Questions For My Missional Community Friends” […]

13 06 2008

As a church planter I totally think these questions are relevant and important (Thanks for this post!), and I would agree with Drew’s response in regards to the order of future church plants. Gathering immediately through larger group, attractional models do ultimately squash discipleship, and mitigate the opportunity to reproduce missionally minded disciples. My prayer is that we can find the biblical medium between the current conversation regarding the “Cell Church” model (And this is in reality what the MC movement is doing) and the larger group meetings in order to corporately hear the word preached and to sing songs of praise to our Lord and Savior! I find that both of these movements tend to demand one or the other as the “Right” way to do church, when in reality the early church appears to do both (Acts 2:46; 5:42). Thanks again for the post, and for the dialogue through some great comments!

11 02 2010

Wikipedia just posted a new article on Missional Communities you may want to check out. Seems to give some of the history and basics that have been at work for about 25 years.


22 06 2010

What I’m not appreciating is the insistence that my way is right. I’m getting this a lot from the SFL guys and it’s disturbing. It’s almost like other points of view are tolerated but ultimately wrong and if not wrong then your way is simply not the most effective way.

I was a part of an amazing community. I think we needed more and were ready to go deeper but this SFL thing has really torn everyone apart and now we are just small groups of drones or people trying to salvage what has happen to us.

Completely absence of love and grace kill a community. I’ve witnessed this over the last year. I’ve taken notes and really had a chance to learn a lot so I can pass these lessons on.

I hate to see what probably started as God’s vision because man’s vision and twisted. Form versus Function… Enough…

Getting back to our first and most important commandment is the number 1 priority of the Christian. When I see love and grace as a part of SFL, I’ll relent.

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