Transitioning Your Church to Missional Communities

September 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

The Austin Stone didn’t begin as a church committed to missional communities.  Through several years, we have transitioned our church from a traditional community/small group model to our current model of missional communities.  This series of posts will help you understand how we made that transition over time:

  • Transitioning Your Church to Missional Communities
  • Two Ways to Transition
  • Creating a Sense of Urgency
  • Forming a Strategic Team
  • Crafting a Vision
  • Communicating the Vision
  • Empowering Others to Act
  • Celebrating Wins
  • Building on the Change
  • Institutionalizing the Change

Much of this framework is adapted from John Kotter’s model for leading organizational change.  I pray this series will help many of you that are leading churches through a season of transition!

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Transitioning Your Church to Missional Communities

The vision of The Austin Stone has always been “to be a New Testament Church, existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ.”  Early on as a church, we were committed to the authority of the Bible and the supremacy of Christ.  Additionally, one of the things that made us unique as a church was a willingness to try new things and a strong commitment to necessary change.

At the outset of the church, preaching and worship were definitively our core competencies – it’s hard not to be when you’ve got a guy like Matt Carter filling the pulpit and Chris Tomlin leading worship!  We continue to pursue excellence in these areas as a church, but also early on began to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with simply doing church on Sundays.

Several different things over time led us to consider missional communities.  From the outset, we had a desire to be a church that led people to Jesus and changed our city, but we began to analyze our strategy and structure in light of that desire.

Asking Tough Questions

In 2006, our lead team was reading through Transformation by Bob Roberts, and the book posed the question “What if the church was the missionary?” and that’s when some light bulbs started going off.  Rather than simply operate as usual, we began to examine everything we did in light of adopting the posture of a missionary.  As we processed that question, we realized that when we aimed at community, we got neither community nor mission.  But when we aimed at mission, community almost always resulted.

Also, we started surveying church planting movements around the world and there were some very clear patterns that emerged. We realized that very few of them were characteristic of our existing communities.  

Finally, we began to see mission as central to the new testament church as we studied Acts together. In many ways the mission to make disciples was the organizing principle of every facet of that church. We just couldn’t keep doing church the way we have been doing it after we considered all these things.

A Learning Journey

Those early years were filled with many questions, several challenges, and a lot of learning along the way.  One of the things I continue to be grateful for is the leadership of Matt Carter and Kevin Peck, as they are men who embrace change and are willing to lead through it.  Convinced that we HAD to change, our church began the process of transition to missional communities late in 2006.

We made several mistakes in our transition, adopting more of a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, but God was faithful and our people were forgiving.  We learned how powerful stories are in shaping vision, and how necessary structure and practices are in persevering in mission.

Although the process has been long and difficult, it has brought more joy in Christ, obedience to the Spirit and God’s Word, and greater fruitfulness in disciple making in our city.  We have learned a ton about leading people through change, about leading a rapidly growing church, and about leading people into everyday rhythms of community and mission.

Take Your Time

Perhaps the single greatest lesson we have learned in the process is that it takes time for churches, communities, and individuals to change.  In fact, a transition from start to finish takes the better part of a decade!  The process is long, but in my opinion, the outcome is worth it.  We see more and more people pursuing God’s mission to glorify Himself through making disciples in a community on mission.  Austin may not look extremely different now, but in the years ahead, by the grace of God, this city will change.

What has led you to consider a transition in strategy?

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.

2 responses to Transitioning Your Church to Missional Communities

  1. Some great insights here Todd, especially on the priority of mission vision.
    This will be a really helpful series – looking forward to the other posts!

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