missional community

Group Formation Process Graphic

I’ve written in the past about the different stages of formation and growth that groups tend to go through on their way to becoming missional communities.  The chart below summarizes the process and provides a few points for those of you who are more visually oriented.  I hope it serves you well!

Group Formation Strategy

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!

missional community

Stages of Missional Community Development – Conclusion and Data

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


As I have unpacked the different stages that most communities go through, I’ve probably painted a picture that is much neater than reality.  No group of people fits perfectly into any of the descriptions above, but we have found these categories to be very helpful when thinking through training and coaching.  We also use these categories to help us understand how we are doing over time as a church in discipling communities to mission.

For those of you who are leading larger organizations of missional communities, I want to share statistically how we have grown over time to give you some benchmarks.  Generally speaking we’ve fluctuated between 175 to 250 missional communities over the past 5 years.

We began the transition to missional communities in 2007, and in early 2008 we would estimate that we had:

  • 10% Teams of Missionaries and Missionary Teams
  • 50% Small Groups
  • 40% Community Groups

In 2009 and 2010, we put a significant amount of effort into establishing consistent missional community practices, clarifying our core language, and establishing regular training.

In early 2011, after a significant investment in training, we had:

  • 8% Missionary Teams
  • 23% Teams of Missionaries
  • 33% Small Groups
  • 20% Community Groups 
  • 16% Unknown

Our most recent measurement from late 2012 indicates that we are:

  • 13% Missionary Teams
  • 29% Teams of Missionaries
  • 25% Small Groups
  • 21% Community Groups
  • 11% Unknown

The reason I share these numbers is to encourage you that transition takes a VERY long time.  It has taken us 5 years of investment to shift the culture at The Austin Stone from Small Groups to Missional Communities.  If you’re expecting things to change overnight, you are sorely mistaken.

My prayer for you if you’re considering shifting to missional communities is that God grants you conviction that this is His desired ministry strategy for you, and that He grants you perseverance to stay the course when it gets difficult!

missional community

Stages of Missional Community Development – Missionary Team

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


Missionary Team


A new community often forms into a Community Group, then transitions from a Small Group to Team of Missionaries. As these transitions take place, the mission of the group is growing in clarity, and often going from generic to very specific and local.

A Missionary Team has a core group of committed people trying to reach a defined pocket of people. This kind of community is the truest form of how we define missional community.

Main Obstacle to Mission

Although a Missionary Team is doing an excellent job of living life together on mission, there are all kinds of challenges that exist.

More often than not, we have found that Missionary Teams are discouraged by a perceived lack of progress and the mundane nature of mission. Having worked through all kinds of transitions, a Team of Missionaries can struggle with faithfully and deliberately living life together over time.

The second struggle that many Missionary Teams face is multiplication – how and when do we multiply? Often times the struggle begins when someone comes to faith in Christ, and the dynamic of the group changes.

Main Coaching Point

On the coaching front, Missionary Teams will need practical tools when it comes to leading someone to Jesus. How do you baptize and disciple a new believer is a big question we deal with. We also teach them when and how to multiply – you multiply when a new leader has emerged, or you multiply your community when a clear opportunity for mission presents itself.

Missionary Teams often don’t need more practices or coaching, they need pastoring and encouragement to remain steadfast in their relationships with non-believers, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

How have you stayed committed to the mission and community you are a part of? Leave me a comment!

missional community

Stages of Missional Community Development – Team of Missionaries

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


Team of Missionaries


As a Small Group begins to implement the practices of missional communities, there are often some realizations that take place within that community.  The first is how life giving a missional expression of community can be, and second is how challenging this kind of community lifestyle actually is.

As individuals in the community understand their identity as missionaries and put practices in place consistent with that identity, a Team of Missionaries emerges.

A Team of Missionaries is a group that is seeking to make disciples in each individual’s separate sphere of influence.  While the group members may live in different parts of the city, work in different places and have different interests, each individual is praying for people by name and seeking to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus.

We often say this kind of community “gathers for community, but scatters for mission”.

Main Obstacle to Effective Mission

A Team of Missionaries is lacking one thing as a missional community – what we call The Community Apologetic.  Whereas most church leaders would be elated to have a church full of Teams of Missionaries, there is still one more major step to be made for us at The Austin Stone.

We aren’t satisfied just with a Team of Missionaries because a gospel-centered community is the most persuasive argument they have to offer their non-believing friends.

The major obstacle to overcome for a Team of Missionaries is to integrate their lives together, overlapping the places they live, work and play.

Main Coaching Point

A Team of Missionaries will need to begin thinking of how they can consolidate their various mission fields.  More often than not, we help them practice Third Place cohesively and frequently by helping them identify two to four different Third Places that different people in the group are a part of regularly.

Primarily, we’re looking for places of overlap in their lives – do they have kids in the same school, do they work in the same place, are there distinct overlaps in hobbies or activities?  Finding places of commonality helps them establish effective Third Places.

Key Transition Point To “Missionary Team”

This group begins to shift as their desire for the salvation of others goes from the individuals they know to the larger people affiliations they are a part of. Often this means people leaving to either join a MC that is already reaching the people they are passionate about or starting a new MC to reach those people.

What have you found to be effective in implementing common mission as a community? Share in the comments!