austin stone leadership megachurch missional community

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!

austin stone leadership megachurch missional community

Building on 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!


Building on the Change

At a certain point in the transition to missional communities, you have executed on the plan we have walked through.  You’ve created urgency, formed a strategic team, crafted your vision, communicated the vision, empowered people to act, and celebrated some wins.

The temptation is to stop after those steps have been completed, and to be honest, the previous steps are the easy part. Transition is not best measured by what you can do in a year, but if you’re doing it 5 years later with greater effectiveness and participation.

For a change to truly take hold in your church, you will need to build on the initial momentum that you build in the transition and form lasting change.  Many people are familiar with the “Diffusion of Innovations” concept.  In brief, you tend to reach a tipping point in an organization when the Innovators and Early Adopters of a group have implemented a key idea and practice.  The organization will naturally adopt a “new normal” over time, with the Early Majority and Late Majority coming on board soon.  The illustration below highlights the concept:


A Stark Reality

It would seem that if you have executed the transition plan that we have talked about, by and large you would have significantly won the Innovators, Early Adopters, and Early Majority, but in our experience that was not the case.  While we had thought we were close to a tipping point after casting vision for two years in a row, we were sorely mistaken.

Because we focused primarily on casting vision and telling stories without building simple, reproducible, transferrable practices and a system of coaching and care, we found that ~10% of our communities had taken the vision and run, whereas about 60% were desiring to attempt the vision but were either confused or frustrated at their attempt, and 30% simply went about with business as usual.

After the two years, of the 10% who had adopted the vision, only a handful were really healthy.  Several were tired and close to burnout, and some had even left the church because The Austin Stone “wasn’t missional enough”.  The 60% were lacking relationship and growing increasingly confused and frustrated, and some were very suspicious of church leadership.  The 30% who didn’t make the change remained pretty happy, and some even had an “I told you so” outlook.

Without building on the change, the produce of casting a vision for transition will ultimately produce very little sustainable, long term health.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve accomplished a transition!

Train the Same Thing Repeatedly Over Time

Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned in building on the transition was to assume nothing.  Particularly, we could not assume that people had heard the vision, believed the vision, and were attempting to live the vision.  With that conviction, we doggedly trained leaders and communities in the same theology, motivations, values, and practices from 2009 to 2011.  Rather than continuously adding new material, we taught the same things over and over again, refusing to move along until we had seen a marked change in our missional communities and their effectiveness.

Over that 2 year span, we estimate that we trained almost 1600 people in our church community with basic training, and did not shift the practices we were cultivating or the content we were teaching during that time.  You can see the results of that effort here.  It wasn’t until we had trained the vision on a practical level and reinforced the vision through training communities together that we actually hit a tipping point in the adoption of the vision.

In addition to repeating the same training, Years 3 and 4 of transition were spent in focusing on missional community health rather than multiplication.  Toward that end, we developed training, coaching, assimilation and care structures, as well as establishing a culture of assessment.  Without an infrastructure, real change will likely not happen, and people will simply adopt new language and default to old behaviors.

Continue Improving and Iterating

Creating a healthy system doesn’t just have the benefits of sustaining momentum, but also creates an environment where continuous learning can take place.  When you have excellent communication and oversight, it affords you the opportunity to continuously improve upon the vision you originally created.

Each successful (and unsuccessful!) community provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.  It allows you to learn what practices that are useful and which practices can be discarded.  It also allows you to innovate on the original vision and embed it more thoughtfully and precisely into new contexts.

Our different campuses at The Austin Stone all have a unified vision for ministry, but each group of people presents unique challenges and unique opportunities to embed the vision for missional communities into different parts of our city.  The insights we have gained from having multiple teams committed to the same vision in different contexts has allowed all the teams to continue learning and improving upon the vision!

An Exhortation

As a final word in this post, I encourage you to consider the process of transition as a 5 year commitment, rather than a 1 year experiment.  I’ve been around several churches who have been excited about the idea of missional communities, but have reverted back into other paradigms of ministry because they did not see the fruit of the change in the span of a year.

More important than desiring the fruit of missional ministry is a core conviction that you can’t do ministry another way. Don’t start the transition if you’re not willing to fight tooth and nail over several years!

austin stone leadership megachurch missional community

Celebrating Wins in the Transition to Missional Community

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!


Celebrating Wins in Transition

I have to confess that celebration is not my strong suit.  For one reason or another, my greatest challenge in leadership is consistently enjoying and celebrating the work that the Lord has accomplished in and through my team.  This post is one that I need to read and re-read myself, but I pray it serves you well despite my own flaws.

While the Gospel, the Spirit and the Word are the bedrock of any motivation, urgency and vision are certainly powerful motivators in leadership when it comes to starting something new.

Celebration, on the other hand, is probably the single greatest sustainer for the work of ministry.  Without celebration of what God has done, over the course of time, your team implementing the transition will likely succumb to joyless, mechanical leadership, or worse yet, burnout.  So how can we foster a culture of celebration?

How Should We Celebrate?

I’ve already confessed my weakness in this area, and early in ministry I thought celebration just meant I had to acknowledge past work, and then would simultaneously cast vision for the future and plow forward into the next task.  It turns out that can pretty demoralizing!

I’ve learned that you need to do two things to celebrate effectively:

  • Take special moments and events to ONLY celebrate
  • Celebrate small victories every time you gather

With respect to creating special moments dedicated solely to celebration, I realized my weakness in this area when we hosted an event to do only that with our MC leaders, and people had a hard time figuring out how they should respond.  Some wondered why we should gather if we weren’t talking about “business”, and others just kept waiting for us to do a bait and switch, casting some kind of vision.  They were somewhat surprised when all we did was have a great meal together, and enjoy some quality fun!

After that event, I knew that I had failed to cultivate a culture of celebration simply because the people I was leading found it unfamiliar.  Our team still struggles somewhat in this area, but by God’s grace and through active repentance, we are changing into a more celebratory people.

Part of that repentance is taking the opportunity in every environment – team meetings, leader gatherings, coaching meetings, pastoral appointments – to encourage one another and celebrate the grace of God in our lives, our church, and our city.  I’ve been asking God to give me and our team a spirit of encouragement, which means that we are seeking every opportunity to identify and rejoice in the work of Christ and verbalizing it.  Creating a culture of celebration means making it a discipline, not just throwing an occasional party.

Celebrate in Two Things

I once had a friend say to me “metrics motivate your thinking and stories stir the soul”.  I’ve taken this thinking to heart, and it is the primary grid that I use to encourage celebration.  Especially with respect to a transition, you need to establish some short-term, observable wins for your team.  Simply “transition your groups” is not an accomplishable goal.  Think through something like “have individual conversations with 90% of leaders and cast a vision for transition” as a good short term metric.

For medium term goals, you can see how we assess missional communities over time in the series on “Assessment“, and the trends over time in a transition in “Data and Conclusions“.  While metrics are important, they cannot be the only way you celebrate.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to share stories – they bring life to metrics.  If you simply report out percentages without stories attached, it is far to easy to forget that you are leading and discipling real people with real problems and the real Jesus is actually moving in your midst.  Stories inspire the heart to persevere, so find a way to celebrate them!

On a practical note, take time in every meeting to ask for and share stories of what God is doing in the transition.  I would also recommend that you share stories not just of radical success, but also attempts that have produced failure.  When you share where people are trying and struggling, you will both encourage those who aren’t seeing amazing fruit in leadership, as well as identify potential barriers that you probably weren’t aware of.

Stories are a powerful way to celebrate, so continue telling them!

austin stone leadership megachurch missional community

Empowering Others to Act in 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!


Empowering Others to Act

If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you’ve been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully, your church wants to get to work! Often times this stage in the change is when you discover barriers to the transition.  Certain people may have verbally agreed to the vision, but when it comes time to make sacrifices or “kill sacred cows”, people can become resistant.  You also will inevitably find systems and structures that create barriers to the vision being fully lived out.

Empower with the Gospel

For most leaders who are architecting change, the temptation is to grow frustrated and impatient when barriers are encountered.  As one of those kind of leaders, I want to encourage you to remember the gospel in these moments.  Thanks be to God that Jesus never threw in the towel on me, even when I was resistant to change and being disobedient!  I consistently rehearse Romans 5:8 in seasons of transition “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus was patient with me, and by the power of the Spirit I can sacrifice my preferences and timeline to love and serve others well.

Keeping the gospel front and center as you encounter obstacles to the vision for your church will empower you and others to act out of proper motivations.  Regardless of the barriers you may face, they are never an excuse to cease loving a brother or sister in Christ.

If you find pockets of resistance or structures that need to be rebuilt (which you will!), patiently work towards change over time, rather than immediately firing someone or blowing up an entire structure.  There might come a time when you need to shut something down, but err on the side of patience and bear with one another in love.

You Need a Playbook

Part of empowering people to act is casting compelling vision and keeping the gospel at the foundation, but the people you are leading also need a playbook.  You can tell a football team to score lots of touchdowns, but without a clear game plan and set of plays, chances are good you won’t score many points at all.  One of the greatest barriers to the vision becoming reality is leaders not providing a simple, understandable way to live out the vision for missional communities.

In my experience, church leaders tend to be excited about ideas – philosophies of ministry, theology and vision – but tend to be very careless when it comes down to living those things out in the context of daily life.  The single greatest error we made in our transition was not clarifying exactly what we wanted our communities to do, and how we wanted them to do it.  Over time we have corrected that error.

Simple, Reproducible, Transferrable

After you have completed a campaign, I would strongly urge you to focus on cultivating simple, reproducible and transferrable practices that reinforce missional community life.  In my experience, most of the people at The Austin Stone were bought into the vision, but needed some simple things to do.  

For us, we want our missional communities to be committed to God’s Word, to be faithful in Prayer, to Demonstrate the Kingdom tangibly and Declare the Gospel creatively to a pocket of people.  That’s the “what”.  

The “how” is by gathering in Life Transformation Groups, gathering in a Family Meal, and gathering in a Third Place.

We’ve stuck with these practices and values for five years now, and they have become the predominant way in which our church practices community together.  It’s taken time and a lot of different training, but focusing on a few things that are understandable and you can do really well will help people act the vision of being a church that makes a dent in the Great Commission.

austin stone leadership megachurch missional community

Communicating the Vision for 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!


Communicating the Vision for Missional Communities

After working hard to craft a vision for missional communities, you’ve got to start thinking about how you’re going to communicate it well to people.  Hopefully you’ve gotten some practice as you’ve cast vision to your strategic team, and now you are thinking about communicating the vision more broadly.  In my experience, communication consists of three things:

  • The message
  • The medium
  • The audience

We covered most of the “message” component in the crafting a vision post, so I’ll spend most of my time focusing on the medium and the audience in this post.

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success in the transition.  You can create the most compelling vision and the most airtight strategic plan, but they remain ideas until you actually communicate them to other people.

Communicate to Leaders

Your first audience ought to be leaders within your church.  Make sure you communicate a vision to leadership before you roll it out to a broader audience!  It’s crucial for long term success that your current leaders have a sense of ownership and buy-in to the vision.

The vision you are communicating will probably have competition from other communications within your church as well.  Communicate the vision frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything you do with leaders for a season.  Also, consider a time with leaders when you can have their undivided attention. There are often “slow” seasons in the overall life of the church – make use of them!  Whenever you have a captive audience or a free communication channel, use it.  Focus on repetitive messaging, rather than only communicating to the largest possible audience.

Finally, don’t solely do a “vision meeting” or something of the sort to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone’s minds, they’ll remember it and respond to it.  The single greatest reason change fails is that vision isn’t communicated repeatedly over time!

When considering mediums to utilize, I would aim for in person communication to groups of leaders, and specifically doing it in a way that invites feedback and questions.  Without your leaders having a way to contribute to the vision, it will be very difficult for them to have a sense of ownership of it.

Communicate to the Church

After you’ve communicated the vision to your leaders, now it’s time to start communicating to the entire church community.  With respect to mediums, you should use whatever you have at your disposal.  Particularly, you will want to consider:

  • Preaching the vision from the pulpit
  • Communicating the vision through live testimonies or short films
  • Cultivating the vision through small group curriculum
  • Creating written resources to share with your community
  • Focusing all informational communication around the vision
  • Utilizing all ministries leadership channels to communicate the vision contextually to other ministries
When it comes to the message of the vision, communicate a strategically simple message, but do it in a variety of different ways.  Simply because everyone can articulate the same core values does not mean the vision has taken hold.  Communicating the vision creatively with different hooks, different applications, and different illustrations will provide insight for a variety of people into what you’re trying to accomplish.

Running a Campaign or Alignment Series

Perhaps the most effective strategy for communicating your vision to your church is a church-wide campaign or an alignment series.  The basic idea is utilizing every channel of communication and every place people are gathered for ministry over a prolonged season to communicate the same message – from children’s ministry all the way to the pulpit.  These kinds of series take an extraordinary amount of planning to execute, and clarity in everything we have addressed in this series so far.

Below is the basic communication plan for our most recent campaign to redefine missional community and launch a significant number of new missional communities at The Austin Stone:


As you can see, we spent 5 months communicating the vision in different ways to different groups of people, and this was only to reinforce an existing vision!


I probably can’t do justice to the entire process of communicating a vision to the various groups of people inside your church, but here are a few things to takeaway if you’re considering a transition:

  • Talk often about your vision
  • Openly and honestly address peoples’ concerns and anxieties
  • Apply your vision to all aspects of your church
  • Lead by example and live out the vision you want to see

If you’d like more information on a campaign strategy, contact me and I can send you details on how we approach campaigns.  Also, my friend Mark Howell has written extensively on effective campaigns here.