Tuesday, July 09, 2013

This is not your parents' church


Discovering Missional Communities

So, is there a structure that isn't a small group, and isn't a church, but lives somewhere in-between? And if so, what is it?

In my denomination, the ELCA, we have definitions for various levels of church organization. We talk about church in its three expressions:

Churchwide (a denomination)    --   Synods  --   Local Congregations

Some, though unfortunately not many, of our churches also have small groups as part of their DNA.

However, lately I've been thinking we miss quite a lot in terms of what church can be if we don't account for another level of organization somewhere between a small group and a church.

The 3DM movement calls these "missional communities." Mike Breen has made a brief but helpful video defining the term. I recommend you pause and watch it right now. He even mentions Arkansas in the middle of his talk!



Missional communities are small enough to care, big enough to dare. I like this definition. I often find that small groups, though great at caring for each other, studying together, and nurturing each other, don't necessarily feel equipped with the human resources to engage in mission.

On the other hand, many churches are actually so big that the care dimension drifts. They may have the resources to accomplish really amazing ministries, but not enough individual people from the mass of the congregation actually care enough to gather for a proposed all church event.

Missional communities are in between. 

I've been working my way slowly through a series of posts Mike Breen offers on his blog defining missional communities, and I recommend you take the time to read them, if you have the interest. 

A big part of what fascinates me about Mike Breen's proposal for missional communities has to do with its resonances with releasing missional networks I spoke about recently in a presentation for ELCA leaders. 

Almost all of the stories I tell at the end of that presentation about burgeoning ministries here in Northwest Arkansas have what I think are the markers of being potential missional communities. 3DM and Mike's work has been giving me language and concepts to articulate even better what we have seen God up to through our catechumenate, through some of our feeding programs and other ministries.

One participant in a missional community said this, "“It’s like finding something you knew you always needed and wanted, but never knew was actually missing.”

In my life as a Christian there have been just two times in my life where I have thought something similar to that. The first was when I realized that I needed to put a set of mentoring relationships around me, so I was always considering how to have someone in my life who was ahead of me, coaching me on where to go next, plus mentors who were alongside of me, fellow people on the journey, as well as someone I was mentoring and pouring my self into. This was something I always knew I needed and wanted, but didn't realize it was missing until it was brought to my attention.

The second time an epochal shift happened in my Christian walk was in our catechumenate last year. Being with a group of about 30 adults all forming each other in faith in preparation for baptism or affirmation of baptism was simply transformative. Nothing about the catechumenate was completely new. None of it was like finding buried treasure. Yet the combination of everything, it's flow, just felt very right, and God felt very close. 

Building a Discipling Culture

3DM folks talk a lot about discipling. They do it on the individual level, at the small group level (in what they call Huddles) and in missional communities. 3DM is 3DM because it is discipleship in three dimensions. They seek to be balanced in the way that Jesus’ life was balanced. He had three definitive dimensions to his life:

  • UP: time spent focusing on God
  • IN: time spent focusing on others in the body
  • OUT: time spent focusing on those who don’t know Jesus yet


  • Last year I spent the whole year being mentored by Paul Hoffman of Phinney Ridge, who helped our congregation launch a catechumenal process. We plan to repeat this again this year, and I look forward to working with our leadership team and being formed in faith again in the many ways that ancient process offers.

    At the same time, I plan to pay very close attention to resources from 3DM, and seek to be in conversation with people who are forming missional communities, huddles, and building a discipling culture, because I really believe much of what I am learning from Mike Breen and other 3DM leaders is how to put into practice the release of missional networks. Learn and plan and do, and then wait for the Spirit. We will see.





    7 comments:

    1. Love the Venn diagram.

      Breen makes another great observation about MCs when he brings in the sociological understanding of "spaces." (Intimate space = 2-3 people; personal space = 6-12 people; social space = 20-70 people; public space = 75+.) An individual's sense of identity tends to be rooted in the social space expression. For example, your extended family or clan would exist in this space. So an MC also has the potential to ground one's sense of identity in a "clan" that is explicitly centered on Jesus.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. I forgot to mention... Breen mentions this in the book Multiplying Missional Leaders on p.119 and cites E.T. Hall's study on Proxemics as his source. He goes into it further in Launching Missional Communities apparently, but I haven't read that one yet.

        Delete
    2. This 3D model from Mike Breen makes sense--biblically--consider Micah 6:8
      to be whole as church means brothers and sisters doing justice (outward reach), loving mercy (inward reach), and walking humbly with God (upward reach).
      thanks for Sharing, John

      ReplyDelete
    3. I am interested to see how you continue to incorporate the 3D model with a catechumenate expression. I am trying to get the culture in my congregation around a catechumenate/missionary model myself. It seems to me that the philosophy of both go hand in hand an compliment one another.

      ReplyDelete
    4. LIFEhouse Church has been part of the 3DM network since it's first American learning community in 2008. It has been a valuable tool for building a discipling culture here. You will hear it again and again, so I might as well say it once more, this is not a program, but a system based on the discipling system Jesus implemented. It is the best tool I have used in all my years of church leadership, and also the most challenging. Go figure...
      Dana Hanson
      danahanson.org

      ReplyDelete
    5. Tim, one of the reasons I value insights from 3DM is that it really integrates key sociological insights.

      Dana, yes, in that way it is like the catechumenate. It's not a program. It's a walk.

      ReplyDelete
    6. I love the way you are thinking about mission and considering the value of 3DM language and tools to multiply missional disciples. Like Dana Hanson, we have been receiving both teaching and coaching from Mike Breen and the 3DM team since 2008. Not only has it fundamentally changed the way we do ministry as a church, it is renewing our personal faith, marriages, families, and way of life. We are hosting our Missional Community this Sunday. It is called "Love Thy Neighbor" and our missional focus is to simply serve and reach our neighbors. We gather every other Sunday after church for a potluck lunch, time to process what God has been saying and what he wants us to do about it, and planning way to reach out to the neighborhood. If you are serious about exploring this path I urge you to go beyond the great information you can get from 3DM books, blogs, etc. and connect with real-life examples who can offer modeling and mentoring. Joining a 3DM Learning Community is the best way, but joining a Coaching Huddle is also an excellent way to get started. Coaching: I love the way you are thinking about mission and considering the value of 3DM language and tools to multiply missional disciples. Like Dana Hanson, we have been receiving both teaching and coaching from Mike Breen and the 3DM team since 2008. Not only has it fundamentally changed the way we do ministry as a church, it is renewing our personal faith, marriages, families, and way of life. If you are serious about exploring this path I urge you to go beyond the great information you can get from 3DM books, blogs, etc. and connect with real-life examples who can offer modeling and mentoring. Joining a 3DM Learning Community is the best way, but joining a Coaching Huddle is also an excellent way to get started. Here's how to get started: http://weare3dm.com/events/

      ReplyDelete