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Launching Missional Communities | Excerpt #1

September 8, 2010

Closing in on a years worth of work (and 20 years worth of pioneering, experimenting and tweaking) we are finally getting ready to release what we believe will be one of the definitive books on Missional Communities.

So many books have been written recently on the theory of MCs. We really felt there was a need to write a practical book on how to launch Missional Communities and what to do once they are launched. Alex Absalom and I have co-written this project and we can’t tell you how excited we are to get it out.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll release a few excerpts from the book, and here’s the first.

This is the introduction to Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide.

(notice the Introduction is written by someone other than Alex and I, so the personal use of the word “I” actually refers to someone other than the two of us)


There seem to be moments.

Moments when God is clearly taking the church in a certain direction and saying something quite specific.

We sense and recognize these moments when people from different places in the world, with different backgrounds, different denominational affiliations and different socio-economic statuses all seem to be sensing the same thing independently of each other. It’s as if all of the barriers that would normally separate us are mysteriously broken down and in one clarion moment, people who may not agree on a lot all share one thought, one big idea.

We seem to be in that kind of moment right now.

Whether you live in the United States or elsewhere, whether you read books, blogs, listen to podcasts or simply talk with friends over dinner, people are starting to talk about a new, vibrant expression of church that is emerging on the hearts and minds of all these people at one time.

Missional Communities.

They are being called different things in different places, but the idea is the same: A group of people, about the size of an extended family, doing the mission of God together outside the regular confines of the church building.

I found myself in this moment a little over three years ago. I had this sense that God was calling our community to start doing church in a more “missional” way, that it would involve some level of decentralization, with unpaid leaders leading groups larger than small groups to join God’s mission in the world. I knew it would still be part of a greater whole, that there would be a dynamic interplay between these groups on the fringes and the resourcing, equipping center of larger body. It would be an organization of agile, networked organisms.

I talked to other pastors in the United States and they were reading the same statistics I was from Thomas Rainer:

About 65% of the Builder Generation are in a church each week.

With the Boomers, it’s about 35%.

You will find 15% of Gen X’ers gather to a church this Sunday.

For Gen Y (Millenials), the oldest of whom turned 30 in 2010, only 4%.

And in the midst of this, we all seem to be getting the same sense from God about the way forward.

But there was one problem: What does this look like?

I did what any inquisitive person might do. I started picking up every book I could find and pored through them. I read every book and article I could get my hands on, listened to every interview or podcast I could find.

Quickly, something began to emerge: No one really knew what this looked like.

There were a lot of people writing about the social theory and theology of movements and mission, but no clear practices for doing it.

There were only a few people writing practical books on the way forward, and even then it only seemed incrementally different that what had come before. It really wasn’t any more ‘missional.’

It seemed like there were a lot of thinkers who didn’t practice and a lot of practitioners who didn’t think.

It was during this time of vapid frustration that I met the authors of this book, people who have been wrestling with Missional Communities practically and theoretically for more than 15 years. And perhaps it is the marriage of these two things (the practical and the theoretical) that has made their churches and now their global movement so wildly successful.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Sheffield, England, where the movement of Missional Communities began in the mid-1990’s. St Thomas’ Sheffield multiplied into two distinct churches a few years ago and once a year, these two churches open their doors and people flock from across the world to see what it is they have created (they call it Pilgrimage).

The highlight of the trip was probably the missional tour we took on the Thursday of that week. About 40 of us hopped on a charter bus and spent three hours driving around the city of Sheffield and every minute or two they’d point where a Missional Community was meeting and what they were doing.

“This MC is reaching into the Slovakian gypsy population. Dozens of people have come to know Jesus.” A minute or two later…

“This MC started reaching out to Somalian refugees and they have multiplied into three MC’s…” A minute or two later…

“This is where a lot of the university students go clubbing, so this MC meets at 3am on Saturday mornings. Hundreds of people have come to know Jesus…”

“This MC focuses on this wealthier neighborhood to your left.”

“This MC has hooked up with one of the most dangerous gangs in Sheffield, the leader went to prison for murder and we worked with him and he became a Christian and then his family became Christians, and slowly the people in the gang are becoming Christians.”

“This MC meets in the state park every Saturday morning and reaches out to people who love the park and the outdoors.”

“This MC reaches out to parents with babies.”

“This MC has seen a lot of Iranian Muslims come to know Jesus.”

“This MC reaches out to teenagers and their parents.”

On and on and on. We probably looked at dozens and dozens of MC’s in that three-hour span. It was nothing short of extraordinary. It spanned the entire city and was about the most diverse group of people you have ever seen. Some churches in the United States like to talk about ethnic diversity, but I’ve rarely seen them succeed at this, and when they do, they are usually made up of the same socio-economic group of people. These two churches had every race, color, age, religious upbringing and socio-economic status you can possibly imagine.

St Thomas Crookes is, by all accounts, the fastest growing church in Europe, seeing over 500% growth in under 5 years.

St Thomas Philadelphia is now one of the largest churches in Europe.

In partnership with the European Church Planting Network, this way of doing church has been streamlined and has contributed to the planting of 725 churches in just over three years. And we aren’t talking about two guys in a bar and calling it church. These are the real deal. This had never been done before in European church history.

In a city where less than 1% of the people would be in a church on a Sunday morning, a movement is afoot that is calling a city back to God and is spreading across the region, continent and into the United States. Today, hundreds of American churches are beginning to engage with these missional, mid-sized groups and seeing similar substance and growth.

The results, both in Europe, the United States and around the world, have been staggering.

So many of these Missional Communities are doing things most have never seen in our lifetime or may have only read about in the book of Acts.

This book takes more than 15 years of experimenting, successes, failures, honing and puts the best practices into one, centralized resource. The vehicle of Missional Communities were pioneered and are seeing significant success in post-Christian Europe, but have also been further developed and fleshed out in the context of the United States.

Most leaders of the church I’ve talked to seem to be asking three simple questions:
1) What does the church of the future look like?
2) How do we reach people who don’t know Jesus?
3) How do we make missional disciples?

This book is about these three questions.


Doug Paul
Directional Pastor | Eikon Community Church

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2010 5:20 pm

    Hey Mike, where could I find those statistics by Thom Rainer? I’m putting together a proposal for our Mission Team about planting missional communities and I would like to have a reference for those statistics.

    Great stuff!

    • December 3, 2010 5:44 pm

      He wrote a book called “The Bridger Generation.”

      • December 3, 2010 6:01 pm

        Was he specifically referencing a study about weekly church attendance with those numbers? I don’t have the book, but another article referenced the same numbers but said they were an estimation of what percentage of Gen Y would remain christian into adulthood.

        IDK, just trying to find some realistic numbers to describe the situation. In this recent article, Rainer says that he believes 15% of Gen Y Christians to be “deeply committed”.

        He also seems to say that 50% of self described Gen Y Believers (65% of the whole generation) attend church weekly, which would be more like 32% of all of Gen Y. Am I missing something?

      • December 3, 2010 9:49 pm

        Stats are a tricky thing because they can vary largely based on the specific questions asked, sample size, census data, analyzing, etc.

        I know that the stats we used from his book “The Bridger Generation” are referencing the % of people in church EACH WEEK for each generation.

        As for the 32% of Gen Y that say they are believers, I would find the stat absolutely shocking. But I think the biggest thing is what people do, not what they say, and currently, there is anemic attendance at best for Gen X and Y.

  2. December 7, 2010 7:26 pm

    This is the best I could come up with:

    That puts the overall attendance level at 18% for millennials (the lowest of any generation yet), and that’s attendance of ANY religious service (muslim, buddhist, jewish, catholic, evangelical, traditional, contemporary, house church, etc.). So when you say what percentage attend traditional evangelical churches weekly… its probably less than 10%. That’s definitely cause for alarm.


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