faq missional community

Why Don’t We Call Missional Communities Churches?

Friday FAQ

Recently I was asked:

“What would keep you from calling the missional communities “churches”? It seems to me that they are actually functioning and reflecting what a church is supposed to be.”

That’s actually a question I’ve received fairly often, especially from those in the more “organic” or house church world.  I have a great deal of love for my brothers and sisters who are involved in planting organic churches – I have learned quite a bit from their methodology!  My theological convictions, however, drive me to answer that question differently. We don’t call missional communities churches for two reasons: called, qualified, and gifted elders who shepherd and instruct the church are integral to a New Testament ecclesiology, and secondly, we still value the corporate gathering where God’s people come to be instructed by God’s Word under the leadership of the elders of the church.

Called, Qualified, Gifted Leadership in the Local Church

Regardless of practically how you practice eldership in the local church, it is incredibly clear that the church has elders who are called, qualified and gifted to lead:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7, ESV)

There is a lot of subjectivity in those verses and others like them, but it is clear that there is a bar for eldership in God’s church.  These men seek to know the flock under their leadership, love the sheep through pastoral care, feed the people through teaching God’s word, and protect the sheep from false doctrine and sin.  The character qualifications aside, it would seem essential that an elder have a firm grasp on sound doctrine and the ability to teach doctrine both formatively and correctively. Missional community life is about being faithful to being a disciple of Jesus, and a missional community leader is primarily keeping a community centered on Jesus and the mission of making disciples.  While this is a lofty call, and certainly will demand many of the functions of an elder, there are plenty of illustrations in the New Testament of leaders in mission who were not elders in the local church.  A disciple does not necessarily need to be an elder. Therefore, while a missional community can certainly be pursuing becoming a healthy church with qualified leadership, a missional community does not require qualified leadership.  In my understanding, therefore, a missional community is not necessarily a church in total, but certainly a portion of the church pursuing community and mission.  A healthy missional community is connected to elders and deacons who are lovingly serving them over the course of time.

The Corporate Gathering

in addition to qualified leadership, I still have a very high value for the church gathering corporately for the sake of hearing the Word preached, engaging in the ordinances, and worshipping Jesus together in song.  While a missional community is certainly capable of doing these things, and I know many that do, I believe there is unique value in having gifted preachers, teachers, and other forms of corporate gifting to minister to the wider congregation. Preaching presents an opportunity for the word of God to be heralded, taught authoritatively, and to set the foundation of the church squarely on the word.  Secondly, it provides an opportunity to address particular needs of a local church.


We want to remain as faithful to a New Testament understanding of the church as possible, both in the organic sense of disciples in community on mission, and in the institutional sense of church leadership and preaching, practicing the ordinances, and church discipline. With respect to missional communities, I would see them as churches in an infant stage.  My hope is that over time missional communities would become autonomous church plants that pursue New Testament ecclesiology under an autonomous plurality of qualified leadership that pursues gathering  to hear God’s word taught as well as gathering for the sake of those who don’t know Jesus.

faq missional community

Transitioning to Missional Communities

Friday FAQ

I am often asked:

“What recommendations would you give a church that relies (and has relied for quite some time) on a traditional Sunday-school or small group model?”

While every situation is different and requires specific situational wisdom, generally I would say a few things:

Affirm what is excellent about an existing model

Sunday School has done some excellent things in equipping the church with sound doctrine and providing a place for belonging for many.  Although I’m not convinced that Sunday School is the most optimal strategy, there are still many things that I find incredibly valuable!  If you are going to make a change, it is important to recognize that you’re building off a foundation that has some excellent redeeming qualities.

Also, it’s important to recognize that there were people who invested a lot of time and energy into a particular ministry structure.  Honor the investment they have made by affirming them!  Few things are harder than when someone critiques work that you have put a lot into…put yourself in the shoes of the person who has gone before you!  Also recognize that one day someone will come behind you and point out the deficiencies of your ministry strategy some day.

I’ve learned this one the hard way, and had some great friends in ministry who have rebuked me for being an arrogant punk, and taught me to always affirm what the Lord and people have done in the past.

Pilot what you want to see

Before you start telling people what they need to do, you should probably do it first.  I’ve been around plenty of pastors who see missional communities more through the lens of a sexy effective program that makes sense for their church, but not for them.  Without first-hand knowledge of the trials and struggles of MC life, there is no way you can effectively lead others to the radical and sacrificial life of a missionary.  I love how my friend Seth McBee illustrates this:


Piloting will give you stories as well as first hand knowledge of the difficulties. The stories and struggles you accumulate during this time of pioneering will help you connect to others who want to change as well as clarify strategy for the future.

Take it slow!

Finally, take your time.  Think through how you can reframe some parts of an existing structure before you go for a wholesale transition.  Ready, fire, aim can certainly be effective, but remember you’re running a marathon, not a sprint.  Meeting people where they are is often difficult for a hard-charging leader, but it’s critical to maintaining trust and relationship with people over the long haul.  Also recognize you WILL make mistakes, and every strategic transition takes at least twice as long as you think it will.

The older I get, the more reticent to change I become, and we need to recognize that reality and help people by not moving too fast!

faq missional community

The Family Meeting – What Do You Talk About?

This series will drill down on the missional community practice called “The Family Meeting”.  Although there isn’t a formula, here are some things to consider putting into practice:


In the previous post, I covered the meal part of our gathering.  I am also often asked the question “what should we talk about?”  I want to unpack a few different options that I have used, and point out a few others that others I know have put into practice.

Who Will Be There?

The first question I think you need to answer when thinking through discussion topics is “who is going to be there?”  One of the major ideas of missional community is allowing those who aren’t yet following Jesus the opportunity to belong before they believe, and part of that is considering what you talk about.  Often, rather than having a standard bible study, I will simply ask the question “what were your highs and lows over the past week or two?” It’s a great opportunity for those who are believers to speak about God, the gospel, and the Word, and it’s an accessible question for anyone, regardless of your faith, to answer.

Studying the Bible

If you’re going to study the bible together, I’d highly recommend that you do it in such a way that anyone can meaningfully participate in the conversation.  If you’re following a reading plan in your LTGs, then I would just use a chapter from that days reading as the passage you’re going to discuss.  I have found the following questions to be a good standard set if you’re going to do a bible study:

  • What did you like/not like about what we just read?
  • Was there anything you didn’t understand?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • What did you learn about humanity?
  • What did you learn about Jesus?
  • Regardless of where your faith is at right now, if you were to apply what we learned about God to something in your life this week, what would that look like?

These questions give an opportunity to consider the gospel, and reinforce obedience to the Word rather than just learning.

I’m not the biggest fan of curriculum in a missional community, and prefer to focus on individuals reading the bible for themselves and collectively studying that together.  That being said, I think there are some strategic seasons to use curriculum…just don’t rely to heavily on it!

Other Resources

Lastly, my friends at Soma Communities have developed a tool that has proven to be very powerful and effective for missional communities called The Story Formed Way.  I have seen communities at The Stone use this tool, and it has been a great way for believers and non-believers alike to explore the story of God in the bible in a powerful new way.

What are some other ways you have tried to lower the bar of engagement to participation in a discussion?

faq missional community

The Family Meeting – Sharing a Meal

This series will drill down on the missional community practice called “The Family Meeting”.  Although there isn’t a formula, here are some things to consider putting into practice:

  • Sharing a Meal
  • What Do You Talk About?
  • An Evening of Prayer
  • Celebrating Communion


How to Conduct the Missional Community Family Meeting

Rather than dive into practical, “how-to” answers, I usually spend most of my time on “why?” Against my normal tendencies, in these next posts I will try to be immensely practical and explicit about what we do in the different gatherings of missional community life.  Before I go too far, though, we are immensely flexible with forms as long as they are pursuing the proper function.  What one missional community does, another may do completely differently, yet hopefully they are pursuing the same purpose.

For the Family Meeting, the objective is to live out our identity as a spiritual family.  The primary focus of this gathering is the meal – together as a community preparing, eating and cleaning up from a shared meal.

As we train missional communities, I’m often asked a bunch of practical questions…everything from “should we go potluck or have one person prepare the meal?” all the way to “do you have any recipes for large groups of people?”  I have the spiritual gift of grilling, so that’s usually the route I go if I’m on point!

While there is not a single way to do this, here is what I would suggest.

Find the Right Time

First, find a time of the week where you won’t be under a time crunch.  For most families, one of the best times to gather is on Sunday evenings.  Mid-week is so often crammed with activities and events that it is really difficult to pull this off.  Second, I’d highly recommend that you aim for an every other week rhythm on this in order to cut down on some of the stress of a larger gathering.

Planning the Meal

For the meal itself, I have found it works best in our community for one family or person to do the meal planning, but to involve others in the preparation.  This cuts down on a lot of the planning and communication that is often necessary to do a potluck-style meal (and also limits the number of leftovers that get left behind!).  If you rotate through who is taking point, then it shares the burden over time.  Some meals that have worked well for us, and been relatively easy to prepare are homemade individual pizzas, oven-roasted chicken tacos, lasagna and other pasta dishes, grilling with a variety of salad options, and a bunch of others.  I keep bugging my wife to share some of her tricks!

When Do You Start?

Our Family Meeting will usually “start” at least 30 minutes prior to meal time.  This allows for people to pitch in for some preparation, as well as to have some conversation before the meal.  Because we have small kids, we will often aim for a 5 pm start so we’ve got enough room on the backside to get the kids bathed and ready for bed.  We’ve also found that it’s a good idea to either feed the kids before the adults, or to let the kids play outside while the adults are eating, in order to give us some uninterrupted time.

Generally, we will gather in the kitchen and the host dad will pray for our meal together and sometimes provide a topic of discussion for dinner.  We eat for about 30 minutes, and often will have some kind of dessert following the main course to appease the kids and provide a little more opportunity for conversation.  At the end of the evening, we generally invite people to help us clean up after the meal, then it’s time to head home.  In general, from start to finish we usually take about 2 to 2.5 hours.


There’s nothing special about what we do, but then again we’re aiming at being a family together, rather than doing something special in this time.  In the next post, I’ll walk through what we spend our time talking about during this kind of gathering.

faq missional community

Missional Community with Different Ages of Children

Perhaps the single most frequently asked question I receive with respect to missional communities is “what do we do with our children?”.  For this next series, I’m going to focus on answering that question from multiple different angles:


Involving Different Aged Kids

In the first post of the series, I talked about why you should involve your children, primarily from applied theology.  The rest of the posts will focus on the philosophy and practice of involving children.

For this post, I only have experience thus far in Pre-School and Grade School aged missional community, but will draw off the experience of others for Middle School and High School.  What follows are mostly some random and anecdotal thoughts…I’d love for contributions in the comments!

The Challenges of Age-Appropriate Ministry

As a dad, I definitely want the absolute best for my children.  As a Christian, I recognize that best is found in obedience to the Word of God. As a pastor and missionary, I find the greatest joy in obedience in a life intentionally submitted to God seeking out those who are far from Him.  As a dad, Christian, pastor and missionary with different aged kids, I’m often confused!

The first thing to recognize about kids and missional communities is that every age kid has a different learning style and appropriate things they can handle.  If you ask anyone in children’s ministry, they will tell you apart from finding volunteers, the single most difficult part of the job is communicating the truths of God in an age appropriate way.

Bottom line, teaching kids is hard!  Life in missional community is no different – it’s hard to know when to involve kids, what to tell them, and how much we should expect.  I will say this though – if you aren’t making mistakes, chances are good you aren’t trying very hard!


In my experience, involving pre-schoolers in missional community life more centers around the parents then it is the kids.  I’d encourage you to focus attention on caring for the little ones well, teaching them as much as you can from God’s Word (I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible!), and thinking through mission more as adults.

That being said, I think it is a helpful practice to occasionally study the Bible together in community oriented towards children.  Use the Jesus Storybook Bible in your discussion with all families involved – you’ll be amazed what you can learn from a 2 year old!  Also, it’s a great way to teach families in your community who might not know how to have devotions with their own kids yet.

As a missionary though, little kids are an amazing tool – they can make friends with just about anybody!  Pre-schoolers are a great way to connect with people of all ages, and particularly other moms of preschoolers.  Those moms are often in the house all day long with only a two year old to talk to, so take any chance you can to schedule play dates!

Grade School

Grade schoolers, in my opinion, are an American missionaries best friend.  The rhythms of life in my neighborhood are primarily oriented around the grade school – we walk to school each morning, the kids are often on good terms with a large number of other kids, activities usually involve the whole family, and you are in close proximity with most people who are there because of the way schools are zoned.

As far as involving grade schoolers in MC life, they also are becoming more independent and able to articulate complex thoughts, they understand motivations, and are generally beginning to form a worldview.  There is no better time to open up your life and community than now.  I have a friend who says: “You’re parenting your teenager when they are 5 years old”. I want to make sure my teenager understands what the missionary life looks like, and so I involve my grade schooler.  He eats with us, he is learning to study the Bible like we do, I often involve him in activities like serving my neighbors, and he’s spending time with other members of our community as well.

Middle School

I affectionately call middle schoolers “electric chihuahuas”.  Middle school is full of opportunity because your kids are still dependent on you to drive them places, but by and large they are beginning to face many adult problems – hormones, identity, drinking, sex, and all kinds of other issues.  Additionally, in late grade school and middle school, often cliques begin to form and kids’ friend groups and activities begin to narrow in and focus on a particular group and a particular activity.

Involving kids in MC life at this age means two things: allowing some freedom of choice, but also involving them as much as possible.  In my opinion, middle school is a great time to involve your child in the life of a youth ministry where they can hear the same truths you are teaching but from a different voice in their lives.  At The Austin Stone, we focus most of our attention in middle school on what we call discipleship communities, which look a lot like Life Transformation Groups.  We’re treating the kids as individuals who are responsible for their discipleship, but doing it in the context of a group with leaders who are somewhat older.

With respect to involving them as much as possible, I think there are two haymakers for MC life – the first is actively serving the least of these.  Nothing quite kills narcissism like service!  One of our MCs at The Stone serves with a ministry that feeds the homeless in our city, and their kids do most of the front line service while they prepare food…it’s been incredibly powerful.

The second is taking them on a mission trip with your family.  Some of the best stories I’ve heard for middle schoolers come from a family mission trip.  I’d highly recommend that you do it with other families, so the middle schooler has another person to connect with!

High School

In high school, kids are often asserting independence, establishing their own identity, and in many cases self-transporting.  They tend to develop a life rhythm of their own at this point!  In my experience, the best missional communities with high schoolers are often aimed at helping their kids be effective missionaries in their school.  Now is the time for your children to start leading things on their own – cultivating their own missional communities that are trying to live out the practices faithfully amongst a pocket of people.

As far as involvement, I think it’s important to treat high schoolers more and more like adults – full participants in the missional community.  Have them share their highs and lows in Family Meal discussions, let them lead out in ways to serve neighbors, and practice Life Transformation Groups with them.  As far as Third Place goes, I want to have the house that every high school kid wants to be at, and the most effective parents have thought through creating a home that high schoolers are welcome in and want to be at.


By no means are these exhaustive thoughts…I welcome your feedback and ideas in the comments, especially as it relates to middle schoolers and high schoolers.  I hesitate to be prescriptive when it comes to kids and missional communities, because I’ve seen a variety of effective ways of discipling kids and involving them in life together.  I do know this though – our children are looking to us as the pattern for life in godliness, and if we don’t teach them to be missionaries, they likely will not become one!

What have you found helpful when it comes to different ages of children in missional community or group life?