Todd Engstrom on Austin Stone’s Missional Move

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One of the most important current grouplife trends is the move in the direction of missional community.  The Austin Stone Community Church is one of several prominent churches moving in this direction.  Todd Engstrom is the Pastor of Missional Communities at Austin Stone and this is part one of a three part interview.

What is your role at Austin Stone?  How long have you been on the staff?  How has your role changed?

I am the pastor of missional communities (leadership development) at the Austin Stone, which means that I lead out in equipping and caring for our missional communities.  I have served on our staff for 4 years now.  I actually started off by launching our college ministry with a missional community driven approach, and also developed our connections ministries.  I also teach in a variety of settings, including our Systematic Theology equipping class, our Nearly/Newlywed equipping class, and in our Austin Stone Institute.

My role is to shepherd the people of our church as we pursue the vision and mission of the Austin Stone. We desire to see our city (Austin, TX) and the nations changed by the gospel, and we believe missional communities to be one of the best expressions of this desire.

Specifically, I help develop strategy and implementation of missional communities, including:

  • Training new leaders of missional communities in the field and the classroom
  • Leading a staff team that leads and develops our missional communities
  • Leading our connections team and process for assimilation into communities
  • Identifying strategic areas for missional community in our city
  • Collaboration with other missional thinkers, pastors, and practitioners

Austin Stone seemed to have a pretty vibrant small group ministry very early in your history.  Was it always an essential part of the philosophy of ministry?

Gathering together in smaller groups has always been a part of our vision to be a new testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purposes of Jesus Christ.  A cornerstone to the new testament church for us was the priesthood and ministry of every believer, and we have always wanted to be a church that loves one another AND impacts the world around us.  As we have grown up over time, our practices have started to catch up with our values and we’ve gotten a lot more clarity on what it looks like for us to live out this vision well.


What were the primary ministry goals of small group ministry in the early days?  Were you meeting those goals?

At the end of the day, the goal of our community groups functionally were accurate knowledge of the bible and community by itself.  Over time we realized that neither we truly happening because accurate knowledge wasn’t producing obedience and community wasn’t impacting the city.  We definitely had people that loved and served one another, but the city of Austin wasn’t changing because of our groups.


What prompted you to begin moving toward missional communities?

Several different things over time led us to consider missional communities.  From the outset, we had a desire to be a church that led people to Jesus and changed our city, and we began to analyze some of our strategy and structure in light of that desire.

In 2006, our lead team was reading through Transformation by Bob Roberts, and the book posed the question “What if the church was the missionary?” and that’s when some light bulbs started going off.  As we processed that question, we realized that when we aimed at community, we got neither community nor mission.  But when we aimed at mission, community almost always resulted.

When we started surveying church planting movements around the world, there were some very clear patterns that emerged, and we realized that very few of them were characteristic of our communities.  Finally, we began to see mission as central to the new testament church as we studied Acts together, and in many ways mission was the organizing principle of every facet of that church. We just couldn’t keep doing church the way we have been doing it after we considered all these things.


The Verge Network

The Austin Stone launched the Verge Network to feature resources from and for the missional community world.  They’d love to see any and all of you join them for the Verge Conference in 2012 in Austin, TX!


Part two of my interview with Todd Engstrom continues with more on The Austin Stone’s missional move right here.

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  1. Ross Ramsey on June 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    “As we processed that question, we realized that when we aimed at
    community, we got neither community nor mission.  But when we aimed at
    mission, community almost always resulted.”
    this statement in your words.  I sense it is a powerful statement , but
    I believe it needs little more clarification.  Can you help me?

  2. Anonymous on June 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Ross! Todd makes a powerful statement that articulates a core conviction for many grouplife practitioners. When you aim at nothing more than connecting people, when all you’re really setting out to do is make it easier to experience the biblical purpose of fellowship, you rarely even get that. Instead, you more commonly get only a very shallow version of the kind of “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2) experience.

    On the other hand, when you aim for mission, the very act of making a difference together very commonly produces some of the best true fellowship a person will ever experience.

  3. Todd Engstrom on June 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks for your question!  Mark did a great job of clarifying that statement and specifically what we mean.  To add a few more scattered thoughts:

    -When relationships or community become the end goal of what you’re trying to accomplish, most of the time the systems and structures you create to do that aren’t terribly effective at cultivating Acts 2 type community.  Think about the traditional bible study…mostly the product of that kind of environment is hanging out once a week, and maybe seeing one another on Sundays in a typical church.  But we’ve found when groups form around a common mission–something they are wanting to do together in our city–then relationships that form often endure far longer, and produce much more authentic and honest communities.  Acts 2:42 community was formed because Acts 1:8 mission necessitated it, not just because they desired that kind of life together.

    -A mission trip is a great example of this at work: most people coming off a mission trip bond more in the span of one week than they do in a year in a typical bible study.  Something unique happens when people are fighting together for a common goal that isn’t about themselves.

    -On the philosophical/sociological level, Alan Hirsch has written a good deal on this idea.  He considers it in two parts: liminality, which is a state of disequilibrium that cultivates a deep common identity in a group of people; and communitas, which is the idea of a communal life formed around an objective as a people. You can read about it in The Forgotten Ways here:

    I’d love to dialogue more on here…thanks for asking good questions!

  4. markn12 on June 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I’m new to the missional conversation. I recently read The Faith of Leap, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. This book details how the
    church can engage in risk and adventure to move toward deep community and
    effective mission through giving up the false idols of comfort and security. Here’s a link: Sounds like Austin Stone is well on it’s way on this path. 

  5. Anonymous on June 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Mark! The Faith of Leap is on my stack to read. Thanks for the link!


  6. Ross Ramsey on July 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Thank you guys, I love your explanation of this.  I will need some time to digest the implications of that thought, because it really strikes a blow at a lot of what we do.  thank you for the discussion