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Launching Missional Communities | Excerpt #5

October 5, 2010

We are just about to release the book so many people have been waiting for: A practical book on how to launch, sustain, develop and multiply MCs within a church. Couldn’t be more excited.

Here’s the website you can go to for more about the book.

Each week leading up to the release we are posting a short excerpt from the book.

You can read the first excerpt here, which is the Introduction to the book.

You can read the second excerpt here.

You can read the third excerpt here.

You can read the fourth excerpt here.

The 5th section of the book is all about Case Studies.

One of the things that we’ve noticed is that people are a bit skeptical that MCs can work in the United States…that they work in a  truly post-Christian culture like Europe, but perhaps not in an emerging post-Christian culture like the States.

So what we’ve done is provide 4, very thorough case studies of churches that have used MCs in the US and what their story and trajectory was. Two of the case studies were from established churches that transitioned their churches, the other two were from church plants that used MCs to start their churches.

Here is a small excerpt from one of those Case Studies. This is from Ken Primrose’s church, Norman Community Church, which planted 5 years ago using MCs (and as best we can tell, is the very first church to use MCs to plan in the United States!). It isn’t the whole Case Study, just  the first year.

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(At Norman Community Church, Missional Communities are known as house churches, and small groups are called D-groups. To keep the local flavor, we’ve left those terms in place.)

Our Main Steps During the First Four Years

It took four years to fully launch and establish Norman Community Church (NCC). For each year, we can look back and see the major developments for each of the three sizes of gathering (house church, celebration, and D-group). I have also included my major goals for each of those phases.

Year 1

House Churches

  • Began casting the vision for a network of mid-sized Missional Communities.
  • Concentrated on developing a vision and understanding of ‘doing church’ for this mid-sized group. Gained courage that it really is an acceptable form of church.
  • Aware of the frustration some people felt at losing their ‘consumer’ relationship with church.
  • Started with three house churches, organized by stage of life rather than vision; it was necessary, but we were already telling our community that these would eventually give way to a missional driver.

Celebrations

  • Started with three celebrations a month and one house church Sunday morning per month.

D-Groups

  • People met in groups of ten to fifteen, with the primary function of fellowship.

My goals as a leader during the first six months included the following:

  • Having at least one mid-sized community off the ground during this time. Since this expression of church was new to me, I knew I would need to lead it. I needed this experience to coach my other leaders down the road.
  • Starting a house church with a couple or a leader as an apprentice, who would lead the next house church when we multiplied. I talked about multiplication from the outset, to set expectations.
  • Taking 1 Corinthians 14:26 as a workable model for the foundational expression of church life. I began to talk about this model with others and to model this type of meeting in house church.
  • Writing down my reasons for why we were doing church like this. I needed clarity about this, and creating a several paragraph vision statement was helpful. I gave it to our leaders and allowed them to chew on it and give me feedback. I worked on articulating my vision in a thirty-second statement to give before every house church meeting.
  • Teaching about the biblical value of the New Testament model for church life (i.e., mid-sized Missional Communities) in our worship services and had others on our teaching team do so as well. I wanted to lay a biblical framework for what we were doing. People didn’t have to understand all of it, but they needed to know that I did and that my thinking was coming from the Bible and not some church growth book or a cool conference!
  • If this was Paul’s model for the primary expression of church life, I asked our leaders, “What are the implications for us?” I made this an ongoing conversation with our emerging leaders. We created an atmosphere of adventurous learning about house churches.
  • Beginning to steward the paradigm shift from a receiving mode of church life to a ‘giving’ mode. I asked myself, “What values and practices must be challenged and changed to reflect this new paradigm in our community?” I began to put those values into practice.

My goals as a leader during the second six months included the following:

  • Growing an awareness of how I (and my group) could develop and function within a mid-sized community. I tried to take notes about what I was learning and talk about it with my emerging leaders. I felt as if I still needed to be leading a house church because soon I knew I would be overseeing other house church leaders, and I needed this hands-on experience to help problem-solve with them later. By the sixth-month mark, I began to diligently pray for an apprentice who would be the next leader of the house church when we multiplied (I handed off leadership of this first house church after three years, but I multiplied all of our existing house churches out of it). I began to include my apprentice in more visible leadership. After an initial season of consolidating the leaders’ leadership within a new house church, I encouraged our house church leaders to attempt to lead from behind the scenes as much as possible. I told them (and still do), “If you, as the leader, are doing anything other than a minimal amount of facilitating the transitions of the meeting, you need to stop.” That means they shouldn’t lead worship, do all the teaching, or host the house church at their house, or bring the food, or do the announcements, or schedule any administrative stuff, etc. My willingness to delegate becomes the first step toward becoming a church that comes to give, as opposed to one that merely comes to receive.
  • Encouraging the idea of house church to become normal in our community. The terminology  of ‘house church’ began to pop up in the vocabulary of the whole community. House church still may have felt unusual and difficult to articulate, but house churches should be able to point to a certain life-giving experience that permeates the community.
  • Teaching and using the Triangle as a tool to help give our whole community a simple yet comprehensive picture of a balanced Christian life. By the end of this year, our community understood the Triangle and the vocabulary that developed around it (UP, IN and OUT).
  • Encouraging our emerging leaders to share in communicating the vision whenever possible. I needed to find ways to gather our leaders regularly for equipping and encouraging. At this stage of church life, our leaders’ gatherings were heavy on the vision side and practical equipping.
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