austin stone missional community stories

A History of Missional Communities – Sermons, Curriculum and Stories

Things have gone pretty quiet around this blog…the holidays and the hectic pace of life have kept me from writing.  As i have been preparing for this new year of ministry, I spent some time looking back over the past few years and came across some old resources.

It’s simultaneously humorous and enjoyable to see how our team has grown and changed in our understanding of missional communities.  Below is a historical look at how missional communities have developed through preaching, curriculum and storytelling. I pray they are encouraging and helpful to you!

Sermon Series

Fall 2007 Vision Series – We are the Church Together

This is where we started moving toward missional communities rather than small groups.  We accompanied it with our first alignment curriculum, using our existing values language which is still a significant part of our ministry today.

Fall 2008 Vision Series – A Church for the City

This is where we defined missional communities as being “For the City”, and full-scale started calling them missional communities.  One of the later lessons in the curriculum was most helpful in helping people go from “small group” to missional community.

Spring 2011 Preaching Series – Missional Community

This sermon series was a fun collaborative project with several of our pastors who focused primarily on cultivating missional communities at The Austin Stone.  You can hear how many of our thoughts had matured and changed up to that point.

Fall 2013 Vision Series – This Matters

Most recently, we spent some time as a church focusing on the core values that shape our missional community life together.  The curriculum was meant to define these values and reinforce the core practices of missional communities at The Austin Stone.

Other Sermons

In addition to the series above, there have been several different sermons dedicated to missional communities at The Austin Stone…here are a few that were unique and especially powerful.

Stories of Mission by Stew and Joey Shaw – April 2008

Although we don’t have the video that accompanied this sermon, this was a different way of presenting the vision through simple stories of what folks in our body were doing.  Additionally, we integrated stories of both local and global engagement, reinforcing our commitment to making disciples of all people.

Missional Community by Stew – January 2009

This sermon was a vision refresher, focusing on mission as the catalyst for community.  It became very important for one of our important ideas: “if you aim for community, you rarely get mission, but if you aim for mission, you almost always get community”.

Community vs. Biblical Community by Matt Carter – October 2009

Matt powerfully unpacks the distinction between worldy community and authentic biblical community in this sermon.

Stories of Missional Communities

Finally, you can clearly see the development and learning in our journey towards missional communities by the stories we have told over the years.

Fall 2008

These stories emphasized strongly the theme of demonstrating the gospel through tangible acts of service.  As a church, we were discovering the imperative of engaging in the ministries of mercy and justice.

Fall 2009

The first story is a wonderful snapshot of a group doing prison ministry.  It was about this time we realized how much we had focused on serving, while we were missing the primary thread of disciple-making.  Jon and Morgan’s story is an excellent piece explaining how a young couple pursues mission in their everyday life.

Fall 2010

In response to the stories and emphasis of the past two years, we wanted to return to the “every day missionary” idea and tell stories of normal people living intentional, everyday lives for the fame of Jesus.

Spring 2012

We had finally arrived at a core set of practices, and this story puts them on display incredibly well.

It’s been an incredible ride to learn, grow, and lead through the transition to missional communities at The Austin Stone, and I pray these resources encourage you to pursue Christ and greater faithfulness to His mission!

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Where Do We Do Third Place?

Recently I was asked:

As I am trying to lead our small groups toward missional communities, my people are starting to get the concept of third place.  One thing that would be really helpful is if you could give examples of what several different missional communities do in terms of 3rd place, frequency of different types of meetings, etc. I know each group needs to establish their own rhythms, but I think I and my people would be helped to see several practical examples to prime the pump of their imaginations.

Here’s some ideas to consider as you’re thinking through Third Place!

Suburban Missional Community, Multiple Ages of Kids

In my own neighborhood, we’ve had a few different iterations of Third Places.  Our first was called “Kenny’s Coffee”, a local coffee shop that served breakfast and coffee.  We would gather every Friday morning with a few friends, and ended up connecting with a number of different families through this.  Early on, it was mostly moms and young children who would gather there, but slowly over time a few other dads would join in as well.

Next, we intentionally joined a soccer team at the YMCA with two other families, and then filled out the rest of the team with random folks from our area.  This afforded us regular gathering times with families with kids of the same age, and ended up producing some really incredible fruit with a single mother needing some help with her daughter.

For young moms, my wife would regularly schedule a park play date with multiple moms and kids, which created some very healthy relationships and intentional time to talk since the kids were more occupied with something to do.  

When we started to have kids in school, we’ve been working on routinely gathering at school PTA functions with our community and extended friends to be a “good news” people at our elementary.  While it’s not quite as regular as some others, it has also opened up all kinds of new relationships with people.

Finally, our front yard is an excellent Third Place.  We’ve tried to intentionally and regularly invite our Christian friends and non-Christian neighbors to our home on Friday evenings in the summer and Sunday afternoons in the fall and spring.  These times have worked well for regular overlap of our friend groups.

Urban Missional Community, Young Singles and Marrieds

For some of our younger MCs that are in the urban core of Austin, several different kinds of Third Places have proven effective over time.  First is very simply a regular happy hour on a Thursday or Friday evening.  Most of our young folks have a social network that is built around their workplace, and so they are intentionally spending time inviting coworkers out after the day is done.  

Another fun one that some friends have tried is Trivia Night.  Several local pubs have regular trivia nights that draw a great crowd, and it’s usually a pretty easy ask for anyone to come join in the fun.

Activity-based groups are also excellent Third Place environments.  We’ve had a missional community intentionally join a running group downtown that would train together.  Although I’m a horrible conversationalist while running because I’m breathing so hard, for those in a little better shape it proved to be fruitful!

Regular game watches for a particular team have also been fruitful – most fans in Texas are going to cheer for UT or Texas A&M, so during the fall football season, MCs have strategically hosted game watches and tailgates.

Seasoned Missional Communities

For some of our more “seasoned” folks at The Stone (high-school aged kids or empty nesters), I’ve seen one of two things work.  For families with high schoolers, doing a Third Place geared around their kids has been a very effective strategy.  This has taken a couple different forms – regular involvement in a high school based ministry like Young Life, or consistent connection with an activity the student is involved in.  Most parents in that life stage have solid friendships, but still are eager to connect and know their kids friends, so the best MCs have taken advantage of that.

For those without children, the flexible lifestyle that is afforded is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, the flexibility means you have some freedom and time to pursue Third Place in a variety of ways.  On the other hand, people with children post-high school often lose the primary place people in their life stage gather.  I encourage these kinds of missional communities to focus on being a “regular” in a particular place – a coffee shop, a restaurant, or some other establishment.  We haven’t had too many of these communities, so I’m lacking in examples…chime in the comments and share what you’re doing!


Third Place is a muscle that needs to be worked out slowly over time, and creatively approached.  One of the most important things I coach people on is to not quit – these kinds of environments take consistent invitation over time in order to help you pursue mission well.

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Multiple Third Place Environments

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Recently I received the following question on Third Place:

We planted our church in ’07. Currently, our Gospel Communities meet for a meal together and Bible discussion twice a month (every other week), and people meet in tripods (LTG’s) the other two weeks.

While our GC’s have certainly done “Third Place” gatherings, that is not something we have implemented into our DNA like the other two gatherings. Our GC’s are a diverse mix of college students, recent grads, young marrieds, and families with young kids. Finding a third space that is natural and regular for this group is difficult. I’d love any feedback you could give me on implementing a third place into GC’s where life rhythms are wide and diverse.

I’ve actually had a number of people ask this question, so I thought I would post a response.

First, I think this question is so often asked because we primarily conceive of community as an event we attend rather than relationships we have. By and large, the three kinds of gatherings are meant to serve the relationships you have by creating intentionality in what you are gathering for.

You don’t need to have everyone at every gathering all the time! In fact, I think you’ll be far more successful if you don’t have everyone all the time.  We’ve had a number of missional communities who bring 12 people to a particular location, only to have one other friend who doesn’t yet know Jesus join.  That’s a difficult social setting for anyone to walk into!

I’d highly recommend that you work on having multiple different “Third Places” for each Gospel Community. When you have a great diversity of people, focus on having a couple different places where two’s, three’s and four’s of people can gather and invite people they know that don’t know Jesus to spend time with them.

The place or the event is less important than intentionally creating overlap between your community and people who don’t know Christ.

What would you add?

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Gender Specific Missional Communities?

I recently received this question from a partner at The Austin Stone, and I thought it would be beneficial to address here:

Hey Todd, thanks for your faithfulness to getting this information to us. It’s proven to be a great resource for myself in regards to leading my MC and coaching others.  A quick search didn’t bring anything up so I wanted to get your thoughts on gender specific missional communities.

Below is a response.


Gender-Specific Missional Communities

The idea of gender-specific missional communities probably belongs into a wider question about affinity-based groups in general.  Gender isn’t necessarily an “affinity”, but most churches have a tendency with respect to groups to see it that way.  Men’s groups and Women’s groups typically are part of a wider network that includes life-stage, geography, and various other affinities.

Affinity or Mission?

The short answer to why there are not many affinity-based groups at The Austin Stone is that missional communities ideally define their group around a pocket of people rather than an affinity.  Rather than focusing on creating places for specific genders, we’ve tried to focus on helping communities reach groups of people in our city.

I’m perfectly happy for a group to be all women, all men, or life-stage specific (newly-weds, young professionals, etc.) if that is best for the mission.  If the people you are wanting to live amongst and share Jesus with are primarily women, and that is the best kind of community to help someone meet Jesus, then go for it.

If the affinity becomes exclusive or primarily focused internally on the group, however, then I think it can be unhelpful.  I’ve seen many groups who build an affinity-based community struggle to take steps toward mission because they are primarily meeting needs of individuals inside the group.  

The commitment from The Stone is that we primarily want to build community for the sake of mission, rather than build community for community’s sake.  In my experience, the American Church has primarily done the opposite, so it’s a little difficult for people to comprehend that join The Stone from other churches.

Where Do Men and Women Gather?

Second, I’d say that we really do create gender specific environments through the Life Transformation Group.  Although the wider group may be mixed in gender, we want to hone in on authentic relationships with men and women in a small setting that is more conducive to fostering that kind of relationship.

For me, I know that men need strong relationships with men, and women need healthy relationships with other women, and I desperately want to foster those kinds of relationships.  The LTG, in my experience, is one of the best ways to cultivate Jesus-centered relationships quickly and healthily.

That strategy does have a weakness: it often leaves people only with a few friends.  So how can we help cultivate a wider network of relationships for men and women in the church?

Focus on Gender-Specific Equipping

Having healthy, “best friend” type relationships are critical, but so too is having a healthy network of relationships with many other people of the same gender.  We also seek to cultivate those kinds of relationships in our church, but don’t see them as the primary building block of everyday community.

We mostly gather affinity groups for the purpose of equipping, rather than community on mission.  We have a women’s event, or a class, or a men’s seminar, but by and large we’ve focused on equipping affinities rather than gathering them into ongoing communities.  An excellent example of this is “Women at The Austin Stone” (watch the video for an explanation).  This strategy allows us the opportunity to foster a wider set of relationships, as well address biblically any specific issues that a particular affinity may have.

Although our strategy has had weaknesses and difficulties (and is certainly different than most churches approach) we’ve found it to be more effective in cultivating healthy disciple-making communities in the long run.

What would you add to the discussion?  Feel free to push back or ask more questions!

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Institutionalizing the Change to Missional Communities

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:

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!


Institutionalizing the Change to Missional Communities

To make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization.  A transition to missional community is no different – it must become a foundational conviction about the identity of your church and the teams that lead her.

Many churches would say that they have a core conviction about the foundations of community and mission, but when you take a closer look, that value is aspirational rather than actual.  So how is that you can keep missional community really at the core of what you do?

Embedding the DNA in All Ministries

Part of what has made the transition at The Austin Stone sustainable is that missional communities are the foundation of all the ministries at the church, not just a silo in it.  One of the strategies my team employed to help make this become a reality was patience.  Rather than “forcing” every ministry to adopt our vision, we spent years serving and meeting the needs of those various ministries.  We believed that long term change would come primarily through relational trust and unity in leadership, so we earned the opportunity to influence through serving.  We definitely took some short term hits, but the long term effect was worth it.

As of now, our campus pastors all consist of the team who originally developed the vision for missional community.  Our international mobilization team uses the same form of missional community that we teach the general population of our church.  Our advanced training programs require commitment to an actual healthy missional community.  Our worship teams live together in authentic missional communities.  It’s safe to say that the theology, philosophy and practice of missional community is thoroughly embedded in everything we do!

If you want to institutionalize missional community, you’ll need to take it slow, but continue to champion the value over and over again. Perhaps the most important piece of making the change stick is to continually cast vision for the foundational nature of missional communities with your senior team.  More important that a full grasp of the strategy is that you capture the heart of your senior team…tell stories at any chance you get!

Lastly, as you are hiring new teammates, do your best to involve yourself in the process, regardless of the role.  Always help people looking for staff, and keep a running list of people that have similar convictions for ministry.  The more people that bleed missional community on your staff, the better!

Train Everyone

Another critical piece of institutionalizing the DNA of missional community is to train everyone.  I’ve seen so many churches trying to make the transition that only train leaders in the DNA they are after, but often the people in communities and the crowd only hear the vision cast from a stage.

One of the critical learning points for us was to train entire groups, and also welcome anyone to participate in our training. After we launch a new group, the next step we always communicate is to participate in Basic Training together.  This has two primary benefits:

  1. Everyone in the new community is hearing the vision, values and practices, and therefore you’re creating more people who will hold the missional community accountable.
  2. The leader of the new community can focus on shepherding people through the transition, and our teaching team can focus on inspiring people towards change.  Functionally, the leader gets to be “good cop” whereas my team can be “bad cop”.

Bottom line, the more people that know, love and apply your vision, the greater chance you will actually institutionalize it in people.  At this point, we’ve had over 30% of our entire church body participate in basic training, and missional community is now the prevailing culture – it’s weird if someone want to do something different!

Using Helpful Tools

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of curriculum, but we do use it for one particular purpose – to reinforce the DNA we are after in newly launching groups.  After a group has participated in Basic Training, we then expect them to go through a multi-week curriculum that is like training wheels – it helps them put into practice the vision for missional community.

Whatever tools you use to help solidify a change, let me encourage you to focus on using one or two, rather than consistently adding new content.  Institutionalization is born from repeatedly acting upon the same vision over time, rather than reinterpreting the vision into new language.  The more people you have utilizing the same tools and same language, the more likely the vision is to be codified over time.

Reinforcing the Vision Over Time

Lastly, to institutionalize the vision you’ll occasionally need to revisit it from the pulpit.  For us, this fall was exactly that – we redefined missional community for everyone currently in one and invited many more people into the vision who were only attending on Sundays.  We went from 39% connected as a church to 61% connected to missional community, and everyone in the church is speaking the exact same language.

If there is one thing I have learned in the transition to missional community, it is “practice the art of assuming nothing”.  Never assume that you, your team, your leaders, or your church have it figured out!