Archives For assimilation

Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring a number of posts from my teammates here at The Austin Stone on a variety of topics related to missional communities.  This is a two part series from our Downtown PM Campus Connections Director, Tyson Joe.  To see part 1, go here.

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Environments Conducive to Missional Communities

Connections at The Austin Stone is not simply giving information that propels individuals towards involvement but rather it meets people where they are or where they begin and moves them toward a greater degree of faithfulness to Jesus in community. In the first part of this article, I wrote about Paul.  In this part, I will provide some practical learnings from his story and ours.

What’s My Next Step?

If the next step happens to be Missional Community for all new people, new people will feel more secure about this significant big step if someone is there to walk with them. With respect to environments, we ask volunteers never to point in a direction but rather walk them there. Additionally, instructions are never indicative, they are demonstrative.  Rather than “sign up over there”, we communicate “I’ll show you how over here.”

Pointing People to One Thing

This is a preference and not a rule. I like funnelling new people to one thing rather than giving multiple connection points. Telling someone, this is THE way to get connected at this church versus, “try nine of these options all of which have nine different people to contact.”

As a result of the “one thing” philosophy, all space and environments can easily “advertise” this next step. For instance at all of our seating areas outside of the Worship Center, on the coffee tables are cards advertising the upcoming “Connect Event.” All of our iPads or displays are opened to sign-ups for that same event and all of our volunteers are briefed on the details.

Involve Missional Community Leaders into Hospitality Teams

One of the best things we ever did was have our best Missional Community Leaders serve and lead Welcome Teams. As they met brand new people, very logically, they invited them to be a part of their own Missional Communities.  It certainly requires some sacrifice on the leader’s part, but I love involving leaders in Sunday hospitality because it also communicates that missional community and Sunday services are not competing with one another, but rather mutually serving one another.

It also helps foster a “same-team” attitude – your teams aren’t working in silos competing for resources with one another!

The Awkward is on You

I have never been the type of person to gravitate to a corner and try to remain unseen and unnoticed. My tendency is to move towards the area with the most activity and make a scene. I’m not everyone. While there is a small minority of people who fit this description and want to get connected and figure it out on their own how to get connected, the majority of people who walk through the doors of a church, while they may want to get connected, don’t have the experience or know-how to get connected.

As a result, there is an element to environments and personnel that needs to disarm and inform. This is where the “Awkward is on You” comes in. It can be terrifying to walk up to a table or a stand and identify yourself as someone who doesn’t know what is going on. Immediately you are isolating yourself as different from everyone else.

Because of this we coach hospitality team to:

  1. Go to them. They don’t come to you. You go to them. (Note: Also rather than asking, “is this your first time here?” ask, “Is there anything you need help finding?” 
  2. Remember names and faces 
  3. Tell good stories and ask for stories. This way, the next time you see them, it’s, “Hey Tyson, how did that job interview go last week?” 
  4. Capture contact information and follow up. This same creed carries into our Missional Communities and again, since volunteer teams and service teams are seeded with Missional Community leaders, the natural disarmament carries into, inviting individuals to Missional Community. 

Gather vs. Go

We face a monumental challenge in our church where a massive, cold, dark high school must be converted into a welcoming, warm environment and up until recently, all of our signage was directional and somewhat confusing. Recently we changed our language with signage from “You’re in the wrong place…go this way” to “Here you are…you’re in the right place.”

So signs that simply said, “Kids with an arrow” now read “Welcome to the Main Entrance, for Kids (arrow sign).” Simple touches like this convey that we want people to feel comfortable and gather rather than feel herded in a direction that is unknown. As a result, spaces give the feel of a living room while info areas take on a more “Apple Store” approach. All of this emphasizes our value for relational contact that carries on into Missional Community.

What are some other things you think can be helpful in cultivating environments that are conducive to missional community?

Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring a number of posts from my teammates here at The Austin Stone on a variety of topics related to missional communities.  This is a two part series from our Downtown PM Campus Connections Director, Tyson Joe.

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Environments Conducive to Missional Communities

Connections at The Austin Stone is not simply giving information that propels individuals towards involvement but rather it meets people where they are or where they begin and moves them toward a greater degree of faithfulness to Jesus in community. Connections is discipleship.

Connecting a Murderer

One of the best “Connections” stories can be found in the book of Acts. We meet the character Saul in Chapter 7 at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen after preaching a Gospel Message to the Sanhedrin incites such a negative response that he is sent out to be stoned. As people come to grab their stones and wield them at Stephen, they “laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul (v. 58).”

This is our introduction to the murderous, scheming, Saul, enemy of the Gospel. The following chapter tells of “Saul’s ravaging of the Church,” outlining a life lived with the sole purpose of bringing unprecedented persecution to the quickly expanding Christian church, but in chapter 9 everything changes and Saul is blinded and then converted. What happens next is where his “Connection” story begins.

Saul, now Paul, overwhelmed with this newfound lease on life begins preaching and teaching the Gospel. People have no idea how to respond. Christians did not know if this was a trap, and Paul’s former associates were even more dumbfounded. For a few more verses, Paul “fumbles” doing the only thing he knew to do which was boldly proclaim the Gospel wherever he went. As he does this, his former associate persectors resort to the only conceivable solution of plotting to kill him while Christians in the Church thought only to avoid him.

It was then that Barnabas broke down the barrier. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:27) Barnabas went outside of his comfort zone, recognized his brother in Christ, and welcomed him in. I venture to say that this “connections” step in boldness was integral to Paul’s trajectory and ministry.

A Philosophy for Environments

All of our Sunday environments need to carry the philosophy and heart that Barnabas demonstrated to Paul. As people walk through the doors of The Austin Stone Community Church for the very first time, the only assumption we can make is that they are walking through our doors from a past life.

The nature of criminal behavior and debilitating shame and sorrow are probably less horrific than the life Paul was leaving behind (or maybe not?), but everyone on a multitude of levels deals with the ramifications of sin. So we welcome them in as Christ has welcomed us.

Our desire at The Austin Stone Community Church is that the “church experience” not be simply confined to the Sunday worship environment but that the Sunday worship environment work in congress with a Missional Community strategy that engages the people of the Church to extend the values and mission of The Austin Stone Community Church into their work places, neighborhoods, and schools throughout the week. It’s the family of God being a family on mission together.

For this desire to be emphasized and displayed, a significant amount of time is spent ensuring that our “front door” experience and our Sunday environments give a glimpse into a familial bond and fuels a desire to be connected to a Missional Community.

People Over Process – the “Be With” Factor

It wasn’t a really good directional sign or database software that connected Paul. It was an actual person. Barnabas invested time and even risked his own personal safety on “advocating” for Paul. When I was in student ministry we called this the “Be With Factor”. You could never assume that someone knew what the next steps were or that if you told them the next steps, they would know how to take them. However, if by the way you interacted and communicated with people, they understood that there was someone who would “be with” them throughout the next steps no matter what they might be.

I’ll unpack our strategy in the next post, but how do you think through environments, especially on Sunday?

At The Austin Stone, the process of connection to multiplication follows a general pattern that usually takes approximately two years. It generally goes something like this:

This series of posts will explore what comes after the initial efforts to connect individuals into community.
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Considering Multiplication

It might seem odd to you that I am talking about multiplication in a series on newly forming missional communities, but it’s critically important to talk about it early on.  If you’ve participated in a small group before, you know that one of the most difficult experiences in group life can be the working through multiplication, especially when deep relationships have been formed.

The Great Commission, however, simply cannot be fulfilled if the church doesn’t have a value for more disciples being made, which requires that we multiply!  To be honest with you, it takes an extraordinary amount of faith to continue being obedient…I hate it every time someone departs from our community, and I dread the process of leaving one missional community to plant another.  It’s really hard!

That’s why we begin talking about multiplication at the very beginning.  If we want a movement that makes a dent in the Great Commission, we will need to multiply disciples, communities and churches, and everyone needs to be involved.

In helping communities process through a preferred future, we cast vision for multiplication at the outset of our training, and then will continue to ask questions along with way.  We want to keep the mission in front of our groups, even as they are forming, in order to prepare them well for the future of their community.

Also, we want to make sure that we provide plenty of time for a community to get their minds and hearts around multiplication so that we can celebrate when it does happen, as well as grieve.  There are a number of questions about multiplication – why multiply? when? how? – and I want to take some time to address that in the next series of posts.  Stay tuned!

In the mean time, what do you think are the key components to setting a healthy DNA early in a community?

At The Austin Stone, the process of connection to multiplication follows a general pattern that usually takes approximately two years. It generally goes something like this:

This series of posts will explore what comes after the initial efforts to connect individuals into community.
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Thinking Critically About a New MC

As our new missional communities continue to form and have gotten into a rhythm over the course of a few months, often a sense of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction begins to emerge.  There is a satisfaction that the group has cultivated some healthy relationships, but also a dissatisfaction that more isn’t happening.

Often times, conflict begins to emerge within the community during this season as the shininess of something new begins to wear off.  This is a great time to capitalize on addressing the heart issues and recasting vision if you are coaching missional communities.  Where conflict exists, an opportunity for grace and intimacy also exists.  Where dissatisfaction emerges, an opportunity for a renewed sense of purpose and mission also hides.

In our church culture, we have found that people tend to leave conflict unresolved, or they simply leave a community altogether when conflict arises.  At the first sign of conflict, I strongly encourage you to help the leader take ownership of the issue and work through it with the individuals.  Sometimes family fights become the best stories we tell with one another down the road!

Coaching plays an integral role in this season of life, but we have also found that we can facilitate some reflection through assessments.  The assessment does a great job of two things – revealing weaknesses in the missional community and recasting vision for the purpose of the group.

In my experience with assessments, people are often overly critical of their weaknesses and don’t feel like they are very successful.  However, when you talk about some of the stories from their community, the opposite is the case.  Most leaders tend to think that success stories will happen very quickly.  Sometimes they do, but most often it’s going to be a long obedience in the same direction.  Disciples are rarely microwaved!

Regardless of whether it is conflict or assessment, the critical component after a few months is to foster some critical thought about the missional community.  Shaping this value for reflection fosters a sense of ownership of the missional community, rather than people simply doing a rote set of activities.  A friend once told me “the unexamined life is not worth living, and the unexamined faith is not worth believing.”  I’d add that an unexamined community is not worth participating.”

What have you found helpful to foster a sense of ownership and accountability early in the life of a community?

At The Austin Stone, the process of connection to multiplication follows a general pattern that usually takes approximately two years. It generally goes something like this:

This series of posts will explore what comes after the initial efforts to connect individuals into community.
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Establishing Healthy Rhythms

Early on in the life of a newly-formed missional community, often the most difficult challenge is establishing regular rhythms that go beyond just a once a week meeting.  Many of the people who are starting out in these communities tend to approach life together as consumers, and also have a preconceived idea of what community practices should look like. Typically, community consists of a once per week event where often you gather to study the bible together.

With that in mind, we want to meet people where they are, but help them take steps towards gatherings that foster of obedience in different ways.

Although I’m not a huge fan of group curriculum, because people are used to utilizing it and because it is very helpful at keeping people on the same page (literally!), we utilize curriculum early in the life of a forming missional community to reinforce our vision for missional community life. We think of this as a curriculum designed to wean groups off of curricula – it’s helping them to move towards obedience rather than just knowledge acquisition.

You can see a sample of this curriculum here: MC Curriculum Sample

We have used a fair number of curricula in the past like the Tangible Kingdom Primer, Gospel Centered Life, and various other tools.  Although they were great, we would have to spend a lot of time interpreting different language and explaining some differences between our theology and philosophy of ministry. Over time, we decided it would be best to write our own to minimize these challenges.  There are three volumes of curriculum, about 8 to 9 weeks each, and they continue to develop and reinforce our core gatherings (The Family MealLTGsThird Place), as well as our method for studying and applying God’s word, while working through the topics of Gospel, Community and Mission.

The process of developing this curriculum drove us to clarity in a variety ways, and I highly recommend that you do the same in your context.  What would you like to have as core practices and core ideas that drive your ministry? Put them together into a study!

The other piece to establishing a healthy rhythms early in community life is intentional coaching.  I’ve written plenty on the topic here, but we focus a good deal of time and energy on coaching new groups early on.  This is for two primary reasons:

  • It establishes a relationship early with a coach
  • Groups tend to have the most need for help early on

Curriculum and coaching have proven to be an effective tool for setting a foundation that a missional community will build upon over time.  What have you found to be helpful?