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Missional Communities: Authorize what already exists

January 17, 2012

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that in almost every single church community, there are, already, groups of people in the beginning stages of extended family life. It’s just that they don’t know it’s what they are doing. From a sociological point of view, this is an important insight because this is the reality of the situation: If you leave human beings alone long enough, they will form extended families. It’s just what they do.

And probably in your church community, that’s already happened.

It usually happens in one of two ways. Either people start to form the beginnings of an extended family (20-50 people) based around a common, joint ACTIVITY, or it happens through AFFILIATION, when people with similar interests or life stages become friends.

Almost what inevitably happens is that the two start to inter-relate. Participating in a common activity together brings you closer and this group become friends, and doing the friends and family do. Likewise, people who naturally are drawn to each other start to do activities together.

Here’s a traditional example of this at work: Choirs.

In the average size church, you will have a choir of 30-50 people. These people are joined by the common activity of being in this musical group. However, over time, they usually become quite close. Why? Weekly practices. Weekly services. The choir Christmas party. Special Christmas services. Easter services. They just spend a lot of time together, going after a common goal! Eventually, over time, the group that was simply activity based becomes something to do with affiliation as well. They become friends. And sometimes, they start to function as a family.

This is but one example. It happens so often.

So let’s say you’re wanting to start Missional Communities in your church.

What I’ve found is that if you can spot the chrysalis of  extended families starting to form, you can AUTHORIZE it. Rather than starting from scratch in your community with Missional Communities (MC’s), show people where it’s already at work and set them free and empower them to be a Missional Community. Baptize it and let them go do the work of the Kingdom. And what you do is give them a few handles to make sure the life of the family resembles
the life of Jesus (because they are
the body of Jesus!).


  • They need to have an UP dimension (time when the MC gets together to connect with the Father).
  • They need to have an IN dimension (time to gather as the body of Christ, be family together).
  • They need to have an OUT dimension (time spent outside of the church building, doing mission together in the world).

For most groups, this is pretty easy because they are already doing things like this. But giving this simple handle allows them to focus their time and energy and be the full embodiment of a Missional Community.

Simply authorize what already exists!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. C Eric permalink
    January 17, 2012 5:23 pm

    Very helpful Mike, even to one who is not actively engaged in implementing your ideas. I’m headed to a new congregation soon and am hoping to connect more closely with 3DM at that time and bring those ideas to the next congregation. One question I have after reading this post, is to clarify the role of huddles. I’m sure the books & workshops answer this, but take your choir example: I’m thinking that you would want one or more key leaders in that group to be recruited to a huddle for discipleship. Maybe you assume this, but you did not say it. Otherwise, the family of the choir may not take on intentional missional aims or discipleship content, right? You’re talking about finding existing MCs or families in a church, but then engaging it in the huddle work. Sometimes I’m not sure which comes first, the huddle or the MC.

  2. James Seawell permalink
    January 17, 2012 6:22 pm

    Love it Mike! I just hung our with you guys in Pawleys Island last week, this is James from Fort Lauderdale. This has got me thinking. I was just asked to oversee our singles group in the age range of 35 and above and I thought I could convert this to a MC’s. They are already good at IN, there is a monthly teaching, and we probably need to work on the OUT. What are your thoughts? This is a group of about 40-70 people.

  3. January 17, 2012 8:21 pm

    I liked this idea Mike but wondered about it in the context of my attachment church (pretty traditional ‘high church’ – not my comfort zone!) where the Vicar said to me last week that she wished she didn’t have the choir because they were a hotbed of gossip… Now, I guess we might say that could be dealt with by preaching/teaching, but I also wondered how you might build in accountability to an already established group??

    • January 17, 2012 9:46 pm

      I think the key is making sure the group has a leader and you hold the leader accountable as they hold those in their group accountable. For us, we use the vehicle called Huddles which you can read about in the book “Building a Discipling Culture.”

      • C Eric permalink
        January 17, 2012 9:59 pm

        Ah. That answered my question. Thanks!

  4. January 17, 2012 8:29 pm

    Mike, I agree with what you are saying. However, my experience with most existing groups is that they don’t have elements of up/in/out, but generally only one or two. For example, trying to get a Bible study group to take up an outreach together often fails. It seems to me that when groups don’t form with all these in mind, they can be difficult to add later (because it’s not in their DNA or expectations). You say it is pretty easy but I haven’t seen it that much. Any suggestions for getting existing groups to round out their expressions of following Jesus together?

    • January 17, 2012 9:44 pm

      Arthur, completely agree about how most of these groups exist. The challenge is to open the scriptures and say, “ok. We have to be the body of Jesus, and Jesus did these three things. That means this community probably needs to do them. If you had to guess, of the three, where do you think the most growth could be?”

      Then you hold them accountable to living out the plan they come up with. It’s a softer, more pastoral kind of challenge. And honestly, you’d probably have to do that with each group you might authorize.

      That being said, if they aren’t willing to commit to living that out in community, don’t authorize and baptize it!

  5. January 19, 2012 5:19 am

    I love what you said in this post. I have been leading a missional community in Perth Western Australia for nearly 4 years and its only in being part of it do you get it.
    A choir is only a traditional choir unless it has a vision for something which holds them together, shared values and love and respect for one another. Any place will have gossip unless you intentionally have something else.

    The big learning for me is that it all takes TIME. It takes time to build a community of vision, to bring a leadership team together and for TRUST to be built among the team and then the community. Its about authentically doing life together, falling down and being picked up by the most unlikely people.

    I have learned more in the last 4 years about being a follower of Jesus and his disciple than all the previous years of my Christian faith. Its been tough, I have died a million times and yet God is teaching me so much through it all.

    It all take TIME, you cant learn it in a book really, you have to launch out with others and learn as you go. is not that what the disciples did? Come Follow Me…… they obeyed and left everything to follow him.

    I think we have to become more child like, make lots of mistakes, be stupid, look stupid, let go of our sacred cows and go and BE the gospel among God’s people, not just TALK about it.

    As you go out others will come alongside you, others with more experience and they will cheer you on. Without Rich Robinson from Sheffield I would have given up. It would have been too hard. I read all the books and they made me feel depressed. I could never be like Sheffield, Chorleywood etc etc. They were big success stories and I felt so small.

    Just meeting with like minded people, creating a vision and going out to fulfil that vision was all we needed to do to begin. We have been on an adventure and now we are seeing God’s almighty hand working and we are in awe at what he can do.

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