Archives For mc-nextsteps

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.
—–

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.
—–

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?

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.
—–

A Preferred Future

After a community has connected with one another and gotten through the first four weeks, the next step is helping them think through a longer-term vision for their community.  Each individual within that newly formed community often has a different understanding of what the purpose of the community is.  For some, it’s a place to connect with Christian friends. For others, it’s a group to serve the city with.  Others might simply be there because they think “it’s the right thing to do.”

Gathering a diverse group of people with different expectations is often a difficult challenge.  Add to that our desire to see genuine missional community form, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  That’s where our missional community training comes into play.

After those first four weeks together, we try to involve the entire community in our missional community training for two reasons:

  • To cast a compelling vision for a fully-functioning missional community
  • To help the community sort through the many different motivations and expectations each individual has

In this environment, we are trying to create a desire for the kind of community we are training toward, as well as identify challenges and differences of vision that may arise.  We’re not necessarily aiming at getting all the details perfect, but more at helping these people think differently about where they’re going together.

A good example of a tool we use in this environment is the “Who is the Missionary?” exercise:

We have found it’s really important for a group to do this kind of training together, rather than focusing just on the leader of the group.  Doing this helps the group go through some challenging thinking together, and the leader gets to help facilitate conversation. Secondly, it allows the entire group to buy into the vision and practices of the newly forming community very early on.

The whole community gets the benefit of understanding WHY we do what we do, not just what.

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.
—–

The First Four Weeks

If you commit to connecting individuals into your church into community life and are committed to pursuing missional community, you inevitably need to answer the question “how do we get them moving in the right direction?”

Although it usually takes 18 months to 2 years for a healthy missional community to emerge from a group of individuals who don’t know one another, we have found that the first four weeks of the community is imperative to set the tempo for the long term future. Most of our new groups are launched from a Sunday, classroom-based environment we call “Connect Class” (see here for more), and those weeks immediately following are often what makes or breaks a group.

These four weeks are often when group participants will decide if they are going to stick with the community.  We have found it’s important to give a little space after the Connect Class environment to allow the dust to settle and allow people an off-ramp from the people they were placed with.  

For those who do want to stick, we don’t want to overload a group with too many assignments – we’ve found they “need room to breathe”.  At the same time, the first few gatherings will often set the rhythms and culture of a community, so we want to template that time as well as we can.  Rather than provide a curriculum or prescription, we’ve found it’s best to accomplish four things over those four weeks:

  1. Read through the Book of Acts together (1 chapter per day) and discuss it
  2. Gather over a meal twice in someone’s home to share your stories with one another
  3. Gather somewhere not in a home and continue sharing your stories
  4. Meet with a Missional Community Coach to discuss your group mission

We leave the planning and execution of these up to the newly minted leader in order to create ownership for the leader and buy-in from those in the group.  The first three things are designed to mimic what we will ask of a healthy group down the road (The Family Meal, LTGs, Third Place).

What do you think is critical in the first few weeks of a newly forming community?