Missional Communities

June 24, 2011

Jesus on the mission fieldOne of the writers who gives me a lot to think about is Mike Breen. A priest in the Church of England, I first became aware of him in 2006 when he spoke at a Lutheran Church in South Orange County. He had recently moved from England to Arizona to work with The Community Church of Joy and what they were learning at Joy was part of what got Breen to the OC.

That was five years ago, but what I learned that day has become more real to me with every passing year. Breen said that when an earthquake happens the physical landscape can change. So, things that were low can become high, a road that went east can now go south, a bridge can be picked up and moved to another location, and because of this one’s usual sense of how to get from one location to another can change drastically. He believed that an earthquake had happened in our world around the place of the church but that few of us saw this (yet) or understood it. Breen used this idea of an earthquake as a way to talk about the real change that has happened in our world that has moved, change and turned upside down the church as we know it.

Breen has seen the change firsthand living in England. The UK is much further ahead of us in addressing the decline of the church and what to do about it. Breen and his church, St Thomas’ in Sheffield (UK) grew as they became willing to try new things, fail, and see where the Spirit would lead in this new time. You can read more about them here.

I have been collecting books over the last 6-8 months on house church ministry and as I began reading this past week (yes, I do know I am still on leave but come on, how long did you think I’d sit around and RELAX??), I started with “Launching Missional Communities, A Field Guide”

Now, a missional community is not necessarily a house church. But, what I feel one of my roles in the house church network will be is figuring out what to borrow from various movements that the Holy Spirit is working through, as I seek a model that is both “today” and United Methodist.

So first, what is a missional community? For Breen it is “a group of people about the size of an extended family, doing the mission of God together outside the regular confines of the church building.”(page 12)

Here are some additional things about missional communities (MC):

+MC are 20-50 individuals (pg 18)

+MC come together to “witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.”(pg 18)

+MC come together as a group because “they desire to follow Jesus in this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of church.” (pg 18)

+MC are “led by laity, are ‘lightweight and low maintenance…’” (pg 18)

+Those who give leadership to Missional Communities gather weekly to “be discipled, encouraged and held accountable.” (pg 18)

+A MC can either be “a new church plant or, more commonly, a sub-set of a larger gathered church” (pg 20)

+”A MC looks outward through a mixture of service and verbal witness.” (pg 20)

+Has a common mission focus that is the key glue for the shared sense of togetherness.” (pg 20)

+A MC “gathers informally throughout the week, not just at formal meetings” (pg 20)

+MC are made of people from a variety of social classes who are in pre-existing social networks. (Pg 33)

+MC look for where the Holy Spirit is already at work and seeks to join in. (Pg 38)

So how are these different from house churches? Well, one thing that jumps out at me is that MC gather for worship at the local church regularly (seems like weekly from what I have read so far) so they are more like subsets of a local church used for mission, ministry, discipleship and relationships. What I do like about this model is that is it lay led, it is lightweight and low maintenance (ahhh…just typing that feels freeing), and MC go out (they are missional).

These things help inform me as I look at what the DNA of the house church network would be. I am only 50 pages into this 225 page book (and it is workbook, 8×10 size) so I am sure there will be much more to explore.  I highly recommend this book!