missional community

Stages of Missional Community Development – Community Group

As we have led missional communities at The Austin Stone, we’ve found there are some common transitions in the life of our communities, and this series is discussing those four stages. They are:

  1. Community Group
  2. Small Group
  3. Team of Missionaries
  4. Missionary Team


Stage 1 – Community Group


After forming communities, often times from our Sunday gatherings, most groups begin with this DNA.  A Community Group is one where the people enjoy spending time together in a gathered event, possibly desire to go through a book or bible study, but lack any impulse towards those outside of the church.

Primarily, these kinds of communities come into existence because a group of people have a felt need for community – hence “community group”.  These kinds of groups have relationships that are newly forming or shallow, and generally gather only for an event.

Main Obstacle to Mission

Collectively, this group has what we call a “want to” problem when it comes to mission. They may know that they should care about people far from God, but their activity as a community shows that it is not a priority for them.

There are often practical obstacles as well (geographic limitations, lack of knowledge, unfamiliarity in relationships, etc.), but primarily people in these kinds of communities do not believe they are actually missionaries to our city.

Main Coaching Point

Many people in the missional community world tend to write these kinds of groups off.  I’ve challenged them in the past, but I see so much opportunity when the saints of God are gathered that we need to have a next step for them.

In our experience, a community group needs to be hard pressed with the truth of the gospel and the imperative of disciple making.  Their need is not so much practical, as it is sin rooted deep in their heart.  This sin masquerades as many different things, but collectively a community group must see the greatness of the gospel and see the joy in following Jesus in seeking out those far from God.

Practically, we’ve found that training a group like this together is crucial.  They often will not make a transition collectively if you only train them as individuals.  This is the primary reason we train whole communities together at The Austin Stone.

The tool we often embed at this point is the Life Transformation Group, and specifically focus attention on the community’s prayer on the lost.

Key Transition Point To “Small Group”

This group begins to shift as people’s conversations and prayers begin to become outward focused. They may begin simply serving at Sunday services or monthly in the city, but either way they are beginning to see their community as not primarily about themselves but about others.

What has been your experience with “Community Groups”?  Let me know in a comment!

6 replies on “Stages of Missional Community Development – Community Group”

Good summary. Definitely feel like I’m leading a Community Group/Small Group right now, but am hopeful we get to see more transition to Team of Missionaries before we take a break this summer.

Todd, as always, great post!

My wife and I are leading a group that would fall into this category. We are still struggling to move these people from the church culture’s idea of “Home Group” where you meet once a week, hang out, talk about the bible some (maybe study a book), pray and then “we’ll see you next week”. And we feel because of that…we have a hard time moving into living on mission!

My two questions would be:

1) What does it look like at the Stone for training and equipping these group leaders & group members “together”.

2) What would your suggestion or coaching point for a group like this at our point. We feel our role is to encourage the pursuit of Christ FIRST as a group of people in hopes that the Spirit within them will begin to awaken them, but do you have any practical thoughts as leaders, for us!?

Always enjoy your input, thanks Todd!

Glad it’s helpful…for training, we do 4 weeks, 2.5 hours each session, and it’s a mixed bag of teaching, dialogue, processing activities, and homework. It’s a lot of fun!

As for your group, I’d recommend keeping the same format (once a week meeting for a couple hours), and slowly change just that evening. I’d start with 6 weeks of eating a meal together and just sharing your stories…do the extended version, not the 3 minute kind! Try two people per night, which should give you plenty of fodder for 6 weeks.

After you’ve done that, I’d recommend doing LTGs at the regular meeting time for about 6 weeks. Simply break off into groups of two and three, and run through the LTG format. Mix and match groups each week, and let people try it with other folks. Once LTGs take off, try moving them into other times throughout the week.

After that, I’d try meeting outside the home for 6 weeks – see if you can gather in restaurants, parks, and other spots, but keep the time the same as you have been doing.

Once you’ve gone through this kind of cycle, I’d guess that people won’t be so stuck in a rut, and you’ll have an easier time starting to get more flexible and creative as a community. Most importantly, take your time!

Hope that helps!

Hey Todd, first comment here. Really have enjoyed reading your blog and hearing about what God is doing at Austin Stone. Really respect you guys! I am just coming off stepping down at a church as their “community group pastor”. I think one perspective to keep in mind is that until you really dive in and understand the workings of a churches small group structure you can have no idea what it really is. We had 130 groups and 2500 active. Our groups really focused on two core values to keep things very simple – Connection & Growth. Our connection edge was really focused in on being missional but we had a perspective that everything we did needed to be missional. Because that DNA was so driven in our values as our church and who our pastor was it just became who we are. I think other churches like North Point who have Community Groups reflect a strong missional edge. Although we did it in a different sort of format we were achieving a lot of the same things you guys are at Austin Stone. We had folks mentoring in schools as a part of their group, serving at our local shelter, and then we even had larger scale projects driven by our groups like home, school, and church makeovers. I think the bigger question is are those core things really happening. If their not that is the issue then you got to go back and reevaluate your strategy or work to improve those different areas.

You’re definitely right to point out that until you’re on the ground level, then it’s hard to say what’s really going on…thanks for sharing that! Also, nomenclature isn’t a huge deal (although I think it’s important), so the stages I walk through here are less about the name and more about the description.

I would say though, that we need to carefully think through our church forms in light of the whole word of God and with respect to the great commission. Some of the things we think are working for us can actually work against us in making disciples…even good things!

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