More from Mindy Caliguire on Spiritual Formation

One of the most current grouplife trends is the integration of spiritual formation practices into small group curriculum.  In yesterday’s post we began a conversation with Mindy Caliguire, a leading spiritual formation voice.  Here is part two of our conversation:
Mark: Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and maybe John Ortberg  (for the everyman in us) are often listed as some of the most important writers in the spiritual formation field.  Who are you reading that we might be missing?

Mindy: I like Eugene Peterson’s writing… (especially the shorter ones!) and Larry Crabb’s stuff that relates to transformation in community.  Jan Johnson is also strong, and of course Ruth Haley Barton.  Scot McKnight has a fantastic book on fasting… and many other topics besides… Some of those dead guys, like Thomas Kelly, have had a huge impact on my life.  I haven’t actually read Keith Meyer or Todd Hunter’s new books, but they’re good friends and have many good things to say, so I suspect their writing is strong as well.

There’s a great magazine your readers would really like, Conversations Journal (www.conversationsjournal.com).  I’m a section editor for them… really strong stuff!

Mark: What do you think are some practical ways that small group ministries can encourage formation practices in the lives of group members?

Mindy: What a ministry does when its leaders gather will definitely impact whatever formation practices might happen in a group and, then, what members of a group might do on their own time.  If they are choosing curriculum for the ministry, they could choose ones that include meaningful assignments for folks to do between meeting times… as you said, there are more and more options like this being developed.

I find that since folks are sooo inexperienced with many forms of spiritual practices that it’s vital to create occasional environments when they can learn about and then DO a spiritual practice together.  A practicum of sorts.  The likelihood of them actually incorporating spiritual practices in their lives increases once they’ve experienced a few.

Mark: I know you’ve published several books, what are you working on now?

Mindy: I’ve actually got a few projects in the works… one explores the many connections between our physical bodies and the spiritual life… might be called, “Body of Faith”.  Another develops the concept of Hebrews 12, running the race marked out for us, but focuses on the essential role of community in the process of transformation—how we run that race together.

I recently wrote a really brief piece for Leadership Journal on the idea of transformation in the church… I enjoyed writing it, since I was playing off the “Elgin-O’Hare” expressway, which I’ve learned goes neither to Elgin nor to O’Hare.  Seems oddly like many mission statements I’ve developed and/or used over the years… It’s called, “Thruway or Partway?”  That’s it for my writing now, though… I always have more ideas than time to write.

Mark: This is great, Mindy!  Thanks for taking the time to share with all of us!

Mindy Caliguire on Spiritual Formation

If you’re following what’s happening in small group ministry, you know that one of the current grouplife trends is the integration of spiritual formation practices into small group curriculum.  I’m seeing it as such a big influence that I asked Mindy Caliguire, a leading expert in spiritual formation, to give us some of her insight on this trend.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Mark: Mindy, you launched SoulCare almost 13 years ago, so you’re really a spiritual formation veteran.   What prompted you to invest your time and energies into this ministry?

Mindy Caliguire: At first, I simply wanted to create intelligent, compelling, and beautiful resources that would help people care for their souls… something I so desperately needed, but never discovered until my lack of soul health brought a devastating implosion in my own life and ministry.  Eventually, I began to experience increased health and life… and I wanted to create resources that would inspire others towards forging or deepening an authentic connection with God.  Over the years, though, I have been more and more interested in serving churches that are orienting themselves more explicitly around the priority of transformation and discipleship.  Spiritual practices are an important part of that, but not the only factor… there is a bigger picture.

Mark: What are you seeing now in your work with churches that might be different than it was when you first began?

Mindy: Oh! Great question… at first, Spiritual Formation was a foreign concept, occasionally held in deep suspect.  This always bewildered me, to be honest.  But that was true… and thankfully seems rarely to be an issue any longer.  More and more in evangelical settings we are admitting that our effectiveness in creating disciples hasn’t been as strong as it could and should be—and formation speaks to the developing interior life of a disciple.  As a result of this widened interest and urgency around transformation, two primary areas have shifted for me in my work:

  1. While I care about the “soul health” and spiritual formation for everyone, more often these days I am particularly focused on the soul health of leaders.  Some of the deepest change needed in the church in our day centers around the spiritual vitality of our leaders.  This, of course, impacts small group structures and leadership communities as well.
  2. More and more communities are focused on helping the people in their congregation grasp the concept of a spiritual journey (beyond “cross the line” salvation) and learn ways to take next steps on that journey.  I am encouraged by these conversations, and am optimistic about what can happen in the Body of Christ as more focus is given to this important concept.

Mark: I’m finding the integration of spiritual formation practices into small group curriculum, along with the inclusion of small group discussion into books on formation topics (i.e., The Good and Beautiful God, etc.) to be one of the most important trends in small group ministry.  Are you seeing this?  Why do you think this is happening?

Mindy: Yes, I do see this trend.  Why is it there?!?  Well, as you know, transformation won’t happen from simply reading a book or listening to a sermon—as important as those two kinds of inputs may be!  The self-disclosure and connecting that happen in small groups are also key components of transformation.  Also, “discipleship” was often delegated to a small group ministry/vision, so it’s logical that transformation-related topics would appear in curriculum designed for that environment.  As a related topic, it seems there are many strong Christians for whom the next groups-based-Bible-study is a version of “laying again the foundation” referred to in Hebrews.  It is entirely possible to keep acquiring more and more information about the Bible but be less and less transformed by that knowledge.  We need to move on to maturity.  We need a new kind of challenge—one that builds on a strong biblical foundation, but takes us to the deeper places of interior brokenness and longing for God.  These new kinds of curriculum really help us bring THAT journey, not just our knowledge, into community.  I celebrate any books that do this!!!

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You can read part two of my conversation with Mindy Caliguire right here.  Don’t want to miss what’s next?  You can sign up for my update right here.

CRAVE: An Exploration of the Human Spirit (a 7 Session Study from Lifeway)

Let me start by saying, “Wow!”  Although I loved Life’s Toughest Questions (a previous Lifeway title featuring Erwin McManus), this one is even better.  CRAVE: An Exploration of the  Human Spirit really delivers a great example of story-driven visual media, an important grouplife trend.

There are a number of elements to really like about CRAVE.  First of all, this is a study that will take your small group on an important expedition; an expedition into the depths of their own souls. As pointed out in the opening session, “every human being has a craving for intimacy, to find a love that is unconditional.”  In addition, “every one of us has a craving for destiny, a longing to become.”  At the same time “we all have a craving for meaning; we’re all striving to make sense of our life and are searching for someone that can be trusted.”

Second, each session is anchored by a teaching vignette featuring Erwin McManus, the engagingly charismatic Lead Pastor of Mosaic; exploring these soul cravings (intimacy, destiny and meaning), pointing out that they are “the fingerprint of God on our soul.  And what we are experiencing is our soul longing for God.  If we’ll just look into our souls we just might find the proof of God we’ve been looking for all along.”

Third, along with the teaching vignettes, CRAVE features three original short films that “take advantage of some of the youngest and brightest directors and writers in the film industry…uniquely created to drive the CRAVE small-group discussion (from the study guide).”  All three films will provoke a great conversation.  The closing scene in Midnight Clear will probably take a long time to forget.

Fourth, the teaching vignettes in combination with the short films will prompt some very good discussions.  The questions and exercises included in member book  will help keep the conversation on track.  Along with the in-session guide, there is also a personal time section for each session designed to help participants continue to process their new understandings.  Although there is not much to the Leader’s Guide, this isn’t the kind of study that requires a jump-start.  If anything, leaders will require some sensitivity to keep the conversation on track.

Finally, some groups may want to read McManus’ Soul Cravings (2006) as a companion.  Although CRAVE is a great stand-alone study, reading along will only enhance the experience.

CRAVE is a grouplife study you’re going to want on your recommended list.  It’s a great entry into the story-driven visual media category and covers an important topic in a way that will get groups talking.  I highly recommend it.  Prefer to buy from Lifeway?  You can do that right here.

Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System

Last week I began a series on important clues when designing your small group system.  I really want you to catch this.  I believe there is a best system for your church.

I don’t mean a problem-free system (see my article on the pursuit of problem-free if you’re unfamiliar with this learning).  I mean, there is a system that will best fit your culture (or the one you aspire to cultivate).

Last week I said that the first clue when designing your small group system was an understanding of how many adults are already connected and how many are unconnected.  I believe this is crucial information as you develop the design for your small group system.

Clue #2: Build Next Steps for Every Participant and First Steps for Their Friends

We’ve talked about Saddleback’s concentric circles in the past.  This diagram is a great way to understand several different aspects of ministry.  Seriously.  It’s amazing.  But only if you really get it.

Here’s how it works for me.  These are the definitions:

  • Community: These are people who don’t yet attend your church.  They may know about you.  They may have friends that attend.  But they’re not connected in any way to what you’re doing.
  • Crowd: The crowd represents people who may only come a few times a year.  They may only come twice a year (Christmas and Easter).  Still, while thinly connected to your church, they consider your church to be their church.
  • Congregation: These are people that attend more regularly.  They may come 2 or 3 times a month.  They may serve occasionally (for instance, when you add greeters for Easter).  They may give sporadically.  But mostly, they’re more frequent consumers of what you’re producing.
  • Committed: These folks are very involved, are actively serving in a ministry, are regular givers, and attend most Sundays.  They may be playing a leadership role on a team or lead a small group.  They’ve moved out of the consumer role into a contributor role, but they’re more often on the team than leading the team.
  • Core: This last group is generally the most mature spiritually, are often sacrificial givers, and are playing key roles on boards, teams, and ministries.  They are most definitely contributors…in every way imaginable (with time, talent and treasure).

What does this have to do with designing your small group system?

While you probably already get this, a little review may go a long way.  Here’s what I want you to catch today:

  • Your average weekly adult attendance is a mix.  It’s made up of people from the core, committed, congregation and crowd.  All of them consider your church to be theirs.
  • Every church will have its own unique blend of the four circles.  Some churches will have huge crowd constituencies.  This is often the explanation of Easter attendance of 150% of average.  Other churches will hardly see a bump (commonly a reflection of a much smaller crowd segment).
  • Pay attention to the fact that specific activities (or topics) will appeal to less committed, spiritual beginners, while other activities (or topics) will more readily appeal to more committed, more mature believers.
  • Be careful who you’re listening to when you’re evaluating the effectiveness of an event or curriculum.  It’s very common for a critical review from an unintended participant to skew the feedback.
  • An unexpected reality in the concentric circles diagram is that the deeper into the environment a person moves, the more connected within they become.  At the same time, they become less connected to those outside.  With few exceptions, folks in the crowd have more connections in the community than anyone else.  That’s a very significant detail when you’re designing your host recruitment strategy.  It’s also a very important reason that the x-factor is near the edge.

Key Takeaway: You must develop an understanding of the kind of people that make up each of the segments.  I often suggest identifying a person or two from each segment.  Getting to know them, learning to anticipate their needs and interests, will help you design a system that offers next steps for all of them and first steps for their friends.

Here’s Clue #3 in my series.

Review: Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg

If you’ve not found Margaret Feinberg yet…you might want to pick up Scouting the Divine (comes out in paperback on March 1, 2011).  Having only read The Organic God, I wasn’t sure what I’d find.  I was amazed to find myself 35 pages in before I knew it.  Better, I was enchanted by an captivating retelling of an encounter with a shepherdess and her sheep.  Part of the bargain?  A great collection of new insights into the world of the Great Shepherd.

The subtitle of Scouting the Divine offers a hint: “My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey.”  Can you tell where Feinberg is going?  I found myself pulled into the work by this quote from her introduction:

What does it mean to know Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God when the only places I’ve encountered sheep are petting zoos and Greek restaurants?  How do we learn to wait for the harvest when we live in a culture of easy access?  How can I understand the promise of a land overflowing with milk and honey when the only honey I buy comes in a bear-shaped bottle at my local grocery store?  Can I grasp the urgency of Jesus’ invitation to abide in the vine when I shop for grapes at Costco?

Scouting the Divine is artfully divided into four parts; engaging firsthand encounters with a shepherd, a farmer, a beekeeper, and a vintner.  Much like W. Phillip Keller’s, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Feinberg has given us two things: a devotional experience that will awaken a more personal read of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels and a resource that will bring a fresh approach for teachers and communicators.

Like The Organic God, I think this will also be a resource for groups looking for a book to read together.  Although it doesn’t come equipped with a fully functional set of discussion questions, skillful leaders will have an easy time guiding their members through the journey by incorporating a journal and companion readings in the Gospels and Psalms.  Scouting the Divine will be a good addition to your recommended list for devotional reading.

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.

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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.

Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group System

Can I show you what I think ought to be your first clue when designing the right small group system or strategy for your church?

This might surprise you, but I really do believe there is a best system for you.  How can you figure out what is best?   I have three clues.  Here’s the first one.

The first thing you need is an understanding of how many adults are already connected and how many are unconnected.  Some will argue that before you need that info you need to clarify what a win is for your small group ministry.  They have an argument.  They may be right.  But I think this comes first.

Some churches want to take their average adult weekend attendance and subtract the number of adults in groups to come up with the percentage connected. Don't fall for that. That's a fake number.
Here’s how I go about it:

Step One: Figure out the adult attendance at your last Easter or Christmas Eve service(s).  We’re not looking for your average weekend adult attendance.  We’re looking intentionally at your holiday attendance because it is almost always a better indication of your crowd number.  The crowd indicates the number of people who consider your church to be their church.

This is a really big understanding.  While there are some churches that have almost zero appreciable difference in their Easter and regular attendance…they’re not the norm.  There is normally a bump of 15 to 25% in adult attendance.  The size of your crowd is what makes that happen.  Some churches can have a bump as high as 30 to 50% on Easter.  The higher your outreach element, the higher the bump.

Important: I draw a circle and write down the Easter number (see the diagram above). Continue Reading…

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.

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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.

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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.