Would Your Groups Wrestle with the Challenge of Homelessness?

homelessnessYesterday I mentioned that my ideal group will make having an impact a natural thing.  Maybe yours will too!

A friend at one of the sponsoring organizations let me know about Time to Listen, a 15 minute film focusing on the stories of six different homeless individuals and how they navigate life.  I watched it.  It’s a very compelling story and one that helps you see the faces and hear the backstory of those we just just pass by.

There’s also a very simple discussion guide that will help groups process the film.  A downloadable 90 second preview could make it a system-wide initiative.

Interested?  It’s free.  It’s very well done.  You can find out more about it right here.

Mission: St. Louis is Transforming a City

One of the coolest ideas in On the Verge is being implemented by Mission: St. Louis, a non-profit that exists “to transform the city of St. Louis through education, empowerment and development by connecting churches with neighborhoods in need.”

Mission: St. Louis was launched by The Journey in the St. Louis area with a vision of “building lasting relationships with neighborhoods in need and restoring dignity to the people who live in the communities,” their strategy is to bring about such transformation by creating “a network of churches who work alongside communities in need to create a safe and nurturing environment for all people.”

Churches or groups “operating alone often struggle with duplicating the efforts of others and maintaining limitied resources.  However, many people working together with the same purpose will have a lasting impact on our city.”

Along with educational programs (like Adopt a Classroom) and empowerment programs (like  job training programs), the Community Loop program has served over 40 families this year, with over $100,000 in resources.

I recently interviewed Josh Kamer, the director of one of the most innovative solutions being pioneered by Mission: St. Louis.  Josh joined the staff 2 years ago to develop the Community Loop program “to enable homeowners in Forest Park Southeast and Hamilton Heights to remain in their homes and to ensure safe and healthy living environments for community members.”

There are several keys to the Community Loop program that ultimately lead to projects being developed that serve the people who need help maintaining their homes:

  1. The Community Loop website was developed to provide an easy to use way to connect interested volunteers with suitable projects.  You can get a look at it right here.
  2. Training is provided for churches and volunteers who want to participate in the program.  The training provided is both on-site and on-the-job.  To date, over 250 captains have been trained; prepared to go into the website, log in and set up a project.
  3. Donated warehouse space provides storage for material donations (largely overstock and damaged goods) from Home Depot and other corporations making it easier to complete projects.
  4. Community Loop is also designed to receive tax-deductible donations as well.  It’s easy to give.

What have you seen that helps groups get involved in mission?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Mike Breen on Missional Communities, Part 4

Earlier this week I began a 4 part conversation with Mike Breen, one of the most prominent leaders in the grouplife trend known as missional communities. If you missed part 1, you can read it right here.

Mark: I know you’ve written a field guide (with Alex Absalom). What can you tell us about this resource?

Mike: I’d say a couple of things.  First, this isn’t really a book we wrote a year after we stumbled onto something.  This is something we’ve worked on for 20 years and we’re just now getting around to writing about.   So more than anything else, while there is some really strong theory and theology, this is a practical guide on how to launch, grow, multiply and disciple people in Missional Communities.

When it comes to the “missional” stuff, you can get a million books on the theory of missional church or missional communities.  We wanted to devote a book to how you actually can do it.  That seems to be the biggest question by every church leader we come across: I realize there’s a problem, but how can I do anything about it?

Mark: I’m looking forward to reviewing it myself in the next week or so.  Here are some of the comments made by others who have had a chance to read the field guide:

For years I have written about what the church of the future might look like. Consider this book one of the best around at getting to actually do the real thing. —Alan Hirsh, author of The Forgotten Ways

I have read heaps of books on Missional Church and Communities, but his book is by far the most practical and helpful thing I have read. Filled with theological background, case studies, practical help, and proven results. I highly recommend this.–Jon Tyson, Trinity Grace Church, NYC

There’s a lot out there on the theory, but not a lot out there on the practice. This is a practical field guide. If you’re a leader and are looking to start, explore or experiment with Missional Communities, this book is for you.–Michael Stewart, VERGE Conference & The Austin Stone

Pastors today — and I get letters about this — want more than a theology of mission or a missional theology, though they want that too. What they are asking for is a handbook, a field guide, about missional community formation. And they want a field guide from someone who has done it (not just talked about it or written about it) and who has done it long enough to have wisdom about it, and done it well enough to be able to teach it in ways that are both adaptable to a local context but theological enough to be sustainable. This is that book. And the publishers are to be thanked for making it look like and feel like a Field Guide. This is a one-of-a-kind book that will be the standard for all those wanting to form missional communities.–Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed

Mark: I also know you’re going to be at Exponential and that there is a full track on Missional Communities. What will be included in that track?

Mike: We’ll actually be doing a pre-conference session and 5 different workshops for people at Exponential, these are the ones we’re doing:

  • Pre-Conference 1, Missional Communities | Fad, Fact and Fiction: What are Missional Communities? Where did they come from? What makes MCs different than missional small groups? What works and what doesn’t? Learn the nuts and bolts from experts with over 15 years of experience in launching and multiplying MCs all over the world.
  • Main Session 1, Moving from Attractional to Scattered and Gathered: Implementing Missional Communities without killing your church
  • Main Session 3, Launching Missional Communities | A Practical How-To Guide: Insight and advice on how to practically launch, sustain and multiply MCs, from the authors of the new book, Launching Missional Communities– A Field Guide
  • Main Session 4, Using APEST* Giftings to Start, Sustain and Multiply a MC: How does leadership gifting play out in the shaping of a missional community? This session will explore how your/ your teams APEST giftings can be both leveraged and predictive of an MCs trajectory and success. *Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher
  • Main Session 5, Q&A with Missional Mavens – Mike Breen and 3DM Team: After launching a world-wide missional movement and pioneering the use of MCs in the Western church, the 3DM team is available to answer your most burning questions.


I hope you’ve found this four part conversation helpful.  If you want to catch up with Mike Breen, be sure and take a look at his blog or check out 3DM.

Mike Breen on Missional Communities, Part 3

Earlier this week I began a 4 part conversation with Mike Breen, one of the most prominent leaders in the grouplife trend known as missional communities. If you missed part 1, you can read it right here.

Mark: Yesterday you gave us an overview of the idea that every niche in society could have a missional community designed specifically for it.  Can you give us an example or two of the kind of fruit MCs are bearing?

Mike: Let me give you two specific cases.  The first is one that reached out to students in college who were really in the clubbing scene.  This particular Missional Community, their community came together at 2am every Saturday morning, they’d pray together, read scripture, talk about their weeks, and then set up an outdoor cafe on the street outside the club.  When the club closed and the students poured out, the cafe gave them a place to come off all of the drugs and alcohol and provided a safe place for them to talk about life.   Literally hundreds of kids, as relationships developed over time with people in the Missional Community, became Christians.

Another example is a Missional Community we’ve seen focusing on families with young kids in the suburbs.  They simply gather together 2-3 times a month for a meal where everyone brings something.  They share things they are thankful for and everyone participates (even the kids) and they pray for each other.  But they also commit to hang out and invest in each others lives outside of these set times. So the MC is in the overflow of their lives.   They do play dates.  Progressive dinners.  Game nights.  Go to movies.  Celebrate birthdays.  They are integrally connected in each others lives and they simply invite people in on the fun.  It’s really that simple and lots of people have come to Christ through seeing the power of the Body of Christ functioning well together.

Again…it can be really, really simple.

Mark: I imagine there are really two effects of this kind of ministry…both in the lives of those who are touched by the missional community and in the lives of those who are involved in the ministry itself. Would you have an example of the kind of impact on the believers participating?

Mike: I think one of the really harmful things that has happened in the past few decades is that people have started to separate Mission and Discipleship…as if somehow you could be a disciples and not be missional! Jesus pretty much says this is one of the most important aspects of being a disciple (Luke 9, Luke 10, Matthew 10 & 28, Mark 6). What we’ve seen is more spiritual maturity and very real discipleship happening when people are on mission within this extended family. And it’s not hard to see why. That’s what they were created for! These people feel alive in ways that they only ever dreamed of.

Mark: What are the important first steps in developing this kind of ministry?

Mike: I think the biggest thing is recognizing that as disciples, our lives must be shaped in the same way Jesus’ life was. To be quite honest, most people say this but don’t live it out. If people are going to start these kinds of communities in their church, they are going to need a language to create a culture that wants to be like Jesus, to live as he lived. So we’ve found the language of UP/IN/OUT to be really helpful in shaping this kind of community.

Then we just ask people to look at their lives, the church community and their small groups: Is this happening? And if it isn’t…what are we going to do about it?! The tension, along with the Spirit at work, will breed action. “So you’re pretty bad at doing mission. What do you think you should do about that?”

Mark: What are some of the mistakes you’re seeing some ministries make?

Mike: The BIGGEST mistake, by far, that I think people make is assume that mission can be done without discipleship already firmly in place. Dallas Willard puts it this way: Every church needs to be able to answer two questions:

  1. What is your plan for making disciples?
  2. Does your plan work?

Sadly, most churches have plans that simply don’t work. They say they work, but if we evaluate the fruit of the disciples lives in scripture vs. the fruit we see in most of our churches, what we quickly realize is that we’ve just changed the criteria to fit the meager fruit our communities produce.

I firmly believe that we don’t have a missional problem in the United States. We have a discipleship problem. If you make disciples, you’ll always get the church. But if you make the church, you rarely get disciples.

We’ve been in church-making mode for so long that we have long forgotten our task was discipleship, not building churches (which Jesus says in Matthew 16 was his job). If you make disciples like Jesus did, you get mission. If you focus on doing discipleship, your church will grow.


This is part three of my four part conversation with Mike Breen.  You can read part four right here. If you’re not signed up to get the update, you can do that right here. If you missed part one, you can read that right here.

Mike Breen on Missional Communities, Part 2

Yesterday I began a 4 part interview with Mike Breen, one of the most prominent leaders in the grouplife trend known as missional communities.  If you missed part 1, you can read it right here.

Mark: Mike, yesterday you laid the groundwork for us and gave us an overview of the missional community concept.  How did you begin thinking that a larger group might have a different potential?

Mike: It actually started quite simply, something like this.  I wanted to create a culture that had three dimensions to it just as Jesus lived out three dimensions in his life, UP/IN/OUT:

  • UP: deep and connected relationship to his Father and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit
  • IN: constant investment into the relationships with those around Him (His disciples)
  • OUT: entering the brokenness of the world, looking for a response both individually (people coming into relationship with Jesus) and systemically (systems of injustice being transformed)

We began to use this as our language.  UP/IN/OUT.  It’s interesting, once you start to use language of a particular kind, language that’s simple, portable and repeatable, it really does start to shape and form a culture.

So very quickly questions like this started to happen: “Is your Small Group doing any OUT?”

We told some of our small groups, “Okay, this is what your monthly rhythm could be.  First week do something UP, second week do IN, third week do OUT, and the fourth week…why don’t you get together with those other 2 or 3 small groups and do something together.”

Eventually the people came back and said, “You know, it’s interesting, we like the Small Groups, but we really like that bigger, mid-sized group.  We love that time together.  We’ve even given it a name.   Is that okay?  And is it okay if we spend more time in the bigger group and do mission together?”

It would be great to say we did all of this research or got the clearest, most discernible burning bush moment from God, but really…we just stumbled into it.  Though in retrospect, it was easy to see how God was shaping this from the beginning.

Mark: Are you seeing this kind of ministry work in a variety of communities?  Or is this more of an urban ministry strategy?

Mike: This is the beauty of the extended family size (20-50 people).   In literally every single culture on the face of the earth, the extended family size is where every culture locates their identity.   And if they don’t have an extended family, they go about re-creating it.

So yes, it happens in urban settings.  But it also happens in suburban settings and rural settings.   In fact, in you think about rural churches, most of the time it’s really just 5-6 families, but it’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc that are a part of it.  It’s the extended family.   In every continent we’ve seen MCs thrive.

In Sheffield, England at St Thomas Church, what I started with a few hundred people in these groups of 20-50 people, each reaching out to various mission contexts, has turned into thousands upon thousands of people in Missional Communities…in a city where less than 1% of people attend church.  Untold numbers of people are finding Jesus.  MCs for the creative class.  MCs for former Iranian Muslims.  MCs for former gang members and murderers who became Christians.   MCs for students studying at the university.   MCs for new parents.  MCs for people living in particular neighborhoods. MCs for the homeless.  MCs for former prostitutes and drug addicts.  MCs for teenagers in the suburbs.

What Missional Communities do is find a crack or crevice of society and incarnate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to that specific culture of people by creating an extended family on mission together.  And when this scattered church of Missional Communities gathers together as one large family, it is a picture of the coming Kingdom, or as Leslie Newbigin would say, “a sign, instrument and foretaste.”  Every color, age, race and religious background.  That is what the ‘gathered’ worship service has been like.

Mark: I love the sound of that!  “Missional Communities in every crack or crevice of society, incarnating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to that specific culture by creating an extended family on mission together.”  Very cool!  You can take a look at Mike’s blog right here and find out more about 3DM Ministries right here.


My four part conversation with Mike Breen continues tomorrow.  If you’re not signed up to get the update, you can do that right here.  If you missed part one, you can read that right here.

Mike Breen on Missional Communities, Part 1

Mike Breen is one of the most prominent leaders in an important grouplife trend referred to as missional community.  Formerly the Senior Rector at St. Thomas Crookes, Sheffield, Breen currently leads 3DM, the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church that is centered in the United States.  While at St. Thomas Crookes his team pioneered some very different ways of being the church and grew to be the largest church in England by the time he left.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Mike a few questions about missional communities.  Here’s part one:

Mark: Let’s start with a little bit of definition.  When you’re talking missional communities, what do you mean by that term?

Mike Breen: First off, I think it’s important to note that Missional Communities really isn’t a “new” thing.  It really isn’t a fad or the savior of the church.  Really, it’s something we see quite clearly in scripture when you begin understanding that every single letter that Paul wrote was to churches with an average size of about 45.  Furthermore, while it’s a bit new to the United States, it’s been happening in Europe and other places for decades.  So that really informs the discussion.

A Missional Community (MC) is a group of 20 to 50 people who exist, in Christian community, to reach either a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.  With a strong value on life together, the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they are in relationship with choose to start following Jesus through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church.  They exist to bring heaven to the particular slice of earth they believe God has given them to bless.  The result is usually the growth and multiplication of more Missional Communities.  These MCs are networked within a larger church community allowing for both a scattered and gathered church.  These mid-sized communities, led by laity, are “lightweight and low maintenance” and most often meet 3-4 times a month in their missional context.  Each MC attends to the three dimensions of life that Jesus himself attended to:

  • Time with God (worship, prayer, scripture, teaching, giving thanks, etc)
  • Time with the body of believers building a vibrant and caring community
  • And time with those who don’t know Jesus yet

Now this may sound a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.  It’s really just a spiritual extended family on mission together.  That’s really it!  If you’d like a bit more info on it, I think you’ll find this Wikipedia article is really helpful.

Mark: Thanks Mike!  That gives us a good overview of the idea.  What do you think are the most important advantages of this kind of group?

Mike: MCs first began as missional small groups (groups of 8-15 people) more than 20 years ago in England, and honestly, that’s where many churches begin in the United States, trying to make their small groups more missional.  However, after a few years it became clear they were small enough to care, but not large enough to dare.  Missional growth, multiplication and momentum was rare with these smaller, more missional groups.  Leader burnout was common.  Quite honestly, it took several years for this to surface as a recurring problem that needed to be dealt with.  In fact, a lot of small group research coming out now shows that even the healthiest and mostly missionally minded groups can only multiply three times; it’s just too hard and too painful.  Why go through that again?

After a few more years of experimenting, mid-sized groups, about the size of an extended family, emerged as a missional and discipleship vehicle that was capable of the exponential growth and depth we see today.  As Missional Communities continued to develop further and as we began to research why, something exciting came to light: Every culture (and sub-culture) gathers and finds identity in groups the size of extended families.  When natural genetic extended families break down, people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds organically begin to re-create the extended family.  Missional Communities were simply tapping into something hardwired into human DNA.

Mark: I love that phrase.  “Small enough to care, large enough to dare.”  That really says it well.

Are you on the missional community path?  Exploring the concept?  What do you think about it?  How’s it working?  You can chime in by clicking here.

Hope you found part one of my interview with Mike Breen helpful.  I’ll be posting part two tomorrow.  You can make sure you don’t miss anything by signing up to my updates right here.

Missional Communities, Midsize Groups, and Sunday School

One of the current grouplife trends is being called a missional community by many.  The idea that a group ought to exist for something beyond its own spiritual fulfillment, that it ought to exist to make a difference, to sort of live beyond itself and have impact in the community…is a definite trend.  The essence of the trend is that a win for each group becomes to identify and live out a mission in their community.

One of the first churches that publicly rearranged the way their ideal group would operate was Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The Church of Irresistible Influence, a book by Robert Lewis (the senior pastor of FBC at the time the book was written), tells the story of their small group philosophy.  At its essence it was that every group would find a way to serve together.

LifeChurch.tv is another well-known example of a church that rearranged their philosophy to put a stake in the ground and say that a healthy group would be one that finds a way to serve together in the community.

At present, a number of influential churches are embracing the grouplife philosophy that healthy groups exist to make a difference beyond their own personal spiritual growth.  A few of these churches are connecting the idea that a midsize group, often a combination of several small groups in one neighborhood or around one common passion, can have greater impact.  Seacoast Church is an example of this idea and is taking its initial steps in this direction.

Austin Stone is another influential church that has made a definite move in the missional group direction, incorporating into their grouplife curriculum an intentional identification of a third space to hang out in, taking the group away from the comforts of home and placing it in the midst of the community.  Gateway Church in Austin has begun forming midsize groups to allow easier connection in a slightly larger gathering.

The missional community, in some instances incorporating the power of a midsize group, is a current grouplife trend.  Does it sound “a lot like Sunday School?”  Hardly.  Largely convening off-campus, in the communities they seek to impact and influence, they’re not primarily for the purpose of “teaching.”  Rather, in most cases the churches that are moving in this direction are seeking to leverage the upside of a slightly larger gathering, grouped around a common passion (i.e., serving the under-resourced in a challenging neighborhood).

Resource: Missional Small Groups

Looking for a way to build a more externally focused edge to your small group ministry?  M. Scott Boren’s Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the World is a great place to start.

I have to admit, I was a little wary when I picked it up.  Probably because I read and review books and curriculum from a wide range of grouplife philosophies, I’m aware that there are times when the commentary can be somewhat elitist (i.e., “my philosophy or strategy is the only right way to do it”).  I read none of that here.  Instead, what I found was 180 pages of some of the most practical ideas I’ve seen anywhere.  Very refreshing!

One of the aspects that I really found to be particularly helpful is his sense that there are “four different stories within small group life.”

  • The Story of Personal Improvement: “This kind of group provides an opportunity for people to improve the normal rhythms of their normal lives (p. 39).”  I call this a toe-in-the-water experience.  Not a deep commitment.  More of a test drive.  I’m trying it on for size to see if I like it.
  • The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment: “While the Improvement story is about convenience, the Adjustment story is usually about commitment to formal gatherings (p. 40).”  I think this is often what happens after a church-wide campaign.  Test-drive groups that love it and agree to continue meeting grow to love each other and grow in their commitment to the group.
  • The Story of Relational Revision: “The basic element to this story is that a group of people is intentionally learning to do life together differently (p. 41).”  Groups that are intentional about making disciples often add a small group agreement, spiritual partners and accountability.
  • The Story of Missional Re-creation: In these groups “the gospel comes to life and the rhythms of the kingdom begin to create something spontaneous, unexpected, and unpredictable (p. 44).”  The need for structure (agreements and spiritual partners) decreases as the elements you are trying to build in become second nature.

Although Boren is describing a kind of progressive movement toward missional re-creation (he refers to the first two stories as “normal” groups), you won’t find an indication that only the fourth story matters.  Instead, you find a wise prescription for helping “normal” groups (what Boren calls at least the first two stories) learn to take steps that move them toward participation in “God’s mission in the world.”

While the first part of the book is very important and gives a very helpful  frame of reference, the second half is packed with nearly a hundred pages of practices you can experiment with and adopt in your small group ministry.  There’s enough here to help your small groups move skillfully in a new direction.

Finally, the appendix includes a 13 step pattern for a missional experiment.  The first 12 steps can be done over a 12 to 15 week period.  The final step allows the group to determine what happens next and begin to operate in a way that makes the new rhythms natural.

Missional Small Groups is a book that could be influential no matter the strategy or philosophy you’ve chosen.  I’ll be using it to suggest some new patterns for groups that are ready and need to move beyond business as usual.

You can read more of my book reviews right here.

Externally Focused Small Groups

What is a win for your small groups?  Is it a win if they simply meet regularly?  Are you hopeful that they’ll do more than just eat chips and salsa together?  Maybe you’re really hoping that the small group is actually a delivery system that leads your members in the direction of real spiritual growth?  Maybe in an effort to combat the natural drift toward a focus on fellowship and discipleship, you’re intentionally designing the experience of your groups to include some kind of balance between the 5 purposes (fellowship, discipleship, ministry, mission and worship)?

Many churches are moving in the direction of developing an External Focus.  In order to complete the move you’ll need to become much more intentional about developing Externally Focused Small Groups.  One of the best resources I’ve found is over at the Leadership Network.  Packed with great examples of churches that are already implementing the idea, it will help your small group ministry move with intention.