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:
- The Difficulty of Assimilation and Mission
- The Basic Philosophy of Assimilation
- Barriers to Connection
- Strategies for Overcoming Barriers
- A Few Things We’ve Learned About Assimilation
Overcoming Barriers to Connection
In order to address those barriers that exist to connection, we have found three predominant categories are helpful in responding well: events, environments, and relationships. Below is a discussion on the different categories that will lend to an understanding of what things we actually do.
Events are predominantly based on leveraging the momentum of a crowd. They are designed to be a place of low, short-term commitment. In these settings, we want to make information about the connection pathway clearly accessible, that people are available to ask questions of and connect with, and finally that we are clear and succinct on our vision for our church.
Some examples of events that we have utilized include:
- Discovery Events – monthly post-Sunday service events for newcomers
- Missional Community Leader Open Houses – A place to meet a leader in your area
- Group Link – catalyze a new community from a crowd
- BBQ and Potluck Events – gathering people around a meal with no formal agenda
Regardless of the event, we are trying to set the table for someone who is disconnected to meet an individual or find the information that they need to connect.
Environments are different from events in that they require some amount of ongoing commitment to participate in. Typically they involve at least a four-week commitment, and often capitalize on either a particular need or a particular demography. These tend to be the most effective means of connection because involvement in a smaller community is expected and embedded into the environment.
We have found that the best kind of environment for connection involves 6 weeks of a mixture of teaching, discussion, and expected small-group discussion time outside of the classroom. Some examples of these kinds of environments are:
- Demographic-specific classes – Nearly/Newlywed class, Married Life class, Women’s and Men’s classes
- Connection Classes – a 7 week class marketed directly at those who desire to connect to community
- Other Training Environments – Missional Community training, Financial Planning classes, etc.
In addition to these examples above, there is a special kind of environment that we use frequently which is designed to prepare someone to engage in the communities we have. Before someone connects into an existing community, which may be completely unfamiliar territory, we want to provide an understanding of WHY we do things the way that we do.
We simply call this environment “Missional Community Training”, and market it to anyone who has interest in connecting to, learning about, or potentially leading a missional community. The value of having these people altogether is two-fold:
- First, we can leverage the larger environment for connections purposes. The greater the volume of people, the more likely people are to find someone who is geographically or demographically close to them.
- Second, we create an environment for emerging leaders to cast vision for and recruit those interested into new expressions of missional community.
Cultivating an environment for preparation to connection has gone a long way towards fostering healthy culture and reinforcement of our vision for missional community.
Relationships are the core of any effective assimilation strategy, and we try in any setting to ensure that a person who desires to be connected has someone to walk alongside them through the process. Whenever we are receiving some piece of information about an individual, we are trying our best to personally follow up and walk with someone over time.
Our Welcome and Connections Teams are tasked with connecting individuals they meet with a community that is a potential fit, and walk with them through the process of finding a community when another strategy has not proven effective. Only about 11% of people whom we connect with will end up finding a community to plug into this way, though.
It’s important to understand that our objective in connection is not necessarily a perfect missional community right out of the gate, but taking step one in connecting people to one another. We do this so we can intentionally disciple individuals and communities toward greater obedience over time, walking them through a process of change.
What else have you found effective in connection strategies?