About 18 months ago I had the opportunity to interview Todd Engstrom, Austin Stone’s Pastor of Missional Communities about a strategic grouplife move they were making. After almost a year of meaning to get an update, I finally had the chance this week to get the latest on a very interesting story.
MH: It’s been 18 months since we talked about Austin Stone’s move to a missional community strategy from a more conventional small group strategy. Can you give us a sense of the challenge you’ve faced and a snapshot of where things are right now?
TE: In the last 18 months, we’ve gone from a church of 2 campuses to 6 campuses, so we are very much dealing with the growing pains and complexities that this situation brings. Challenges aside, the campuses have been an exception opportunity to network our missional communities in regions of the city together by providing a consistent gathering point.
Additionally, we have a number of missional communities in various stages of formation – those that have just launched with people relatively unfamiliar with the concept, those who have been going for a few years, and still some communities from our legacy small group structure that are hanging tough. Currently, we’re thinking through systemic training and how we can meet such a diverse set of needs.
Our biggest learning during this time has been the need to be doggedly persistent about simplicity and clarity in theology, philosophy and practice of missional communities.
MH: What are some of the biggest benefits of the move?
TE: I think some of the biggest benefits of the move are watching people “get it”. If we’ve equipped our leaders and communities well, they are indeed fledgling church plants who are identifying pockets of lost people in our city, orienting their lives together around them, and then figuring out how to share the good news of the gospel in a compelling way.
Additionally, from an evangelistic perspective, we’ve seen that missional communities are performing as many baptisms as we are in our corporate services. It’s pretty awesome to see the people of God make disciples!
MH: What might be some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
TE: I’m not sure how many we’ve overcome yet :). I’d say our biggest challenges that we’re currently working hard at are:
- Gospel – our greatest battle is keeping the gospel of Jesus at the center of everything we do.
- Pace – we are fighting to keep pace with training, coaching, care and assessment needs of our leaders and communities.
- Clarity – we are fighting really hard to keep things clear, simple and reproducible.
Each of those topics is at least a blog post, so for brevity’s sake, I’ll keep it to that.
MH: What has surprised you?
TE: I’ve honestly been very surprised at how few people can articulate the gospel with clarity. In every training, we do a pop quiz on sharing the gospel. In our new group trainings, on average only about 20% of people can talk through Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection, and that by faith we can be saved from our sin. Virtually no one opens their Bible or quotes Scripture when they answer that question. If only 20% of the people in a church can walk through the gospel, we’ve got some serious work to do!
Our response to this has been a core commitment to this idea – “we never assume the gospel”.