Let’s define what we are talking about. To put it very simply, a missional community is a group with the following characteristics:
- Jesus at the center
- Twenty to fifty (or more) people (including children)
- A clear mission to make disciples in a specific neighborhood or network of relationships
- An intentional disciple-making culture
- An expectation of multiplication from day one (thus an emphasis on practice and team building)
- A pattern of activity that balances Up (our relationship with God), In (our relationship with one another), and Out (our relationship with the wider world)
So one way to think about missional communities is to think of your extended family. Imagine a healthy, vibrant extended family gathering to celebrate a holiday together. Cousins mingle, aunts and uncles chatter, grandparents dandle infants on their knees, and each person feels a sense of acceptance, belonging, and identity within the broader context.
Or think about your front porch, if you have one. Consider the role of the front porch in a street of homes. It is a place where you sit out with your family and interact with your neighbors and passersby. It’s easy to invite someone to stop and enjoy a drink from your pitcher of lemonade, and if your “porch presence” is consistent over time, authentic community will be formed.
Your neighbors will be much more likely to accept an invitation onto your porch than an invitation to come all the way into your home—they know they can leave easily and so can test out their relationship with you in a relatively low-risk manner! If their children are with them and start acting up, they can simply make their excuses and depart.
This is an excellent picture of the environment that a growing missional community creates—a low-risk place for neighbors to enter into your community and spiritual growth, especially when compared to the intensity of a small group or the formality of a Sunday worship service.37
Or think of your local coffee shop. Bring to mind your favorite local haunt where you love to go hang out. It could be a coffee shop, café, or even your version of the bar from Cheers! In most cases there will be enough seating for between twenty and seventy people, which creates a Social Context space within which smaller Personal Context conversations can take place.
As a regular, you will recognize and even chat with many of the people you see in there, and at an emotional level you will feel a high degree of ownership—this is “your” coffee shop. When a larger group is in, such as when the local high school ends its day, tables are pulled together and full-on midsized community takes place.
A final image to illustrate the Social Context is a kids’ soccer team. Think of a friendly and encouraging group that knits together the parents, siblings, and other family members of each child who is playing the sport. Whether at practice or a game, for the duration of the season a strong sense of solidarity and connection forms in such an environment.
Bobby William Harrington, Alex Absalom, and Thom Rainer, Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).