The Difficulty of Assimilation and Mission

June 19, 2013 — 6 Comments

The Austin Stone is a church committed to the exaltation of Jesus through the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel to our city and the nations through missional communities.  This blog series unpacks how we approach the difficult challenge of assimilation into smaller communities from our Sunday gatherings:

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Difficulties of the “AND”

As a rapidly growing church, one of the largest challenges we have faced is connecting individuals who gather with us on Sundays to smaller families that live on mission throughout the week. Add to that our convictions that the purpose of smaller communities is to gather for the sake of mission, not primarily for the needs of the church community, and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to traditional church methods of assimilation or connections.

Over the past few years, we’ve tried just about everything you can imagine. We’ve tried North Point style “Group Link” events, technology assisted assimilation, events on Sundays, midweek classes, and everything in between. We’ve even used a modified Saddleback 40 days of purpose strategy, with the low-bar, large-scale launch approach.

The realization has been that there is no perfect system for assimilation, especially with the convictions we have as a church. As we’ve clarified our vision for missional communities and gone through a few rounds of experimentation, we’ve landed on a fairly stable system that we’ve found to be relatively effective.

We basically took some principles from popular assimilation philosophies, combined some thoughts from small group systems growth, and poured in a good healthy dose of missional DNA.

What has resulted is a dynamic and changing assimilation strategy that uses different environments and events for different purposes with different outcomes over time.

How have you tried to implement connecting new people into communities?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

6 responses to The Difficulty of Assimilation and Mission

  1. Hey Todd! The church I’m at now is a smaller scale than The Stone, but I’m discovering the same need to have multiple assimilation points. We too have done the church-wide cam-pain model (typo intended!), assimilation events and tech-driven tools. I found that in my culture, the most successful assimilation strategies for us are the ones that are more relational but less time efficient. In south Louisiana, a conversation with new visitor to our church normally sounds like, “how are you doing, how’s your family, who’s your momma and can you cook some good cajun food?” So, that’s working for us.

  2. Great to hear from you bro, and thanks for sharing!

  3. Todd, I’m a friend of Chris Collins leading a church in Annapolis, Md. Do you have an articles on the challenge of fostering connectivity and family on mission while including others (keeping the MC open)? How do you deal with a group that just wants to “keep it closed” for intimacy? How do you maintain continuity while always having an open door? Are your missional communities all open?

    • Joey,
      We actually focus most of our energy in connections on starting new groups rather than connecting people to existing groups. We prefer that any new participant in an existing group is invited relationally rather than placed based on geography or affinity.

      So we don’t have an “open” or “closed” group philosophy…we believe the best way for someone to connect is through an existing relationship, and where a relationship doesn’t exist, we focus on starting new groups. Make sense?

      • Todd, Yes, helpful. Thank you. One point of clarification- If someone comes to a Sunday morning gathering at the Stone and signal they want to join a MC (but don’t have a relationship) can they connect in any MC or are certain ones open and others closed? Or if they have a relationship with someone in an existing MC are they able to just join in that MC through whom they have a relationship? Thanks for your help! p.s. A couple named Bethany and Kristofer Womack just joined our church. They were part of the Stone in the early days!

        • Generally speaking for someone who comes on Sunday and wants to be connected, we will point them to a connect class where we launch new groups. Sometimes we will point them to a group if we know it’s a good fit.

          Glad to hear folks from The Stone are plugging in!

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