Missional Community Practices – The Family Meal

This series of posts provides an overview of each of the missional community practices we foster at The Austin Stone:

The Family Meal – Gathering as a Family

Most people in our church are familiar with a typical small group meeting…so began with a gathering that resembled it.

The small group movement laid a helpful foundation, but it wasn’t complete. It’s a really good thing that we have cultivated a value for gathering weekly outside of Sundays.

But the gathering typically was an event someone attended that focused on a felt need. Sometimes it’s the Bible. Sometimes it is common crisis. In my personal experience, vital things like sharing everyday life and prayer for one another are pushed to the margins.

When we as Christians believe the gospel, God has adopts us into His family. We are in fact now brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re not just transactional partners in learning. Most small groups are a far cry from resembling a family.

This provoked us to ask a question: If missional community is about obedience to Jesus, what should we do when we gather?

Obedience, for us, is acting like a family.

If obedience is acting like a family, what do families actually do?

Families share life around a meal. The dinner table is a critical time for my family to connect. It takes intentionality to ensure we do it, and sometimes there is formal instruction. More often than not it’s a dynamic conversation. We talk about what was good and hard in our days over dinner.

So what if we asked our leaders to host a meal, rather than prepare a lesson?

Gathering around a meal

In my experience, the best conversations happen around the dinner table, or while we’re washing the dishes. Real life conversation happens in real life situations.

Also, eating a meal together will quickly reveal what kind of community you have! You’ll need to learn one another’s stories, vocations, and passions. Quite simply, you will NEED to become friends.

Participating in a meal together – one that requires a recipe, not a microwave – is a symbol of your fellowship and relationship with one another. We think it is a helpful practice for every community, because it’s a regular practice of most families.

The Advantages of Gathering this Way

One of the great advantages in gathering this way is frees people up to be people. You don’t have to act a certain way, have a certain knowledge set. You don’t need to have listened to a sermon or have a curriculum. Anyone can join in – even an outsider who doesn’t know Jesus.

What do we have to give up?

Gathering like this is a big change for some people. Inevitably, if you start removing Bible study as the central event you gather around, you’ll get push back.

I’m so glad when someone who asks the question “where can I dig deep?” because we really value the bible too!

In fact, we value studying the bible as much as we value acting like a family, but where should we do that?

I’ll answer that in the next post – Life Transformation Groups.


4 responses to “Missional Community Practices – The Family Meal”

  1. Joel Vint Avatar
    Joel Vint

    Do you gather weekly for meals? It seems like LTG’s are weekly. How about gathering as missionaries? I know it’s messy and changes with people but what cadence do you suggest to the people of Austin Stone for these three practices?

    1. Joel,
      Thanks for your question! Here’s the post where I unpacked those ideas, although we’re quite flexible:

  2. Todd,

    Thank you for sharing these practices. Can you give any insight on incorporating children in the MC’s. What have you learned to be most effective? Are the children always part of the interaction in the MC’s?

    1. Mike,
      I actually need to write a series of posts about children in MCs…that’s a consistent question I get! It honestly depends on the MC, and how you’re working out the three practices. I try to integrate kids as much as possible, but we rarely have a traditional bible study in my MC.

      My friend Logan Gentry has written some good thoughts here:

      Ben Connelly also wrote some good stuff here (it’s part three, but links to part one and two are at the top):

      Lastly, here’s some stuff from Jeff Vanderstelt:

      Hopefully it helps!

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