Foundations for MCs: Organised & Organic

Over the last few weeks we’ve been blogging about some of the themes from our book ‘Leading Missional Communities’. Previous posts on the blog on some of the Foundations for Missional Communities include:

Today Ben Askew blogs about another foundation, living in the tension between the organised structure and organic life of a Missional Community.

One of the principles from the Leading Missional Communities book is that MCs exist on a continuum of organized and organic life.  The community needs an element of organization otherwise it will not be able to sustain growth and life but it will not have the spark it needs to connect to people if it remains just a weekly meeting, there needs to be organic life too.

I have seen this principle at work again and again in the communities my wife and I have led.  Over the last few years we have started three different missional communities in different places.  All have started quite small and then grown.* In each case we have tried to have a simple regular pattern, but keep things as organic as possible.  In one case we began the community by going to a local pub quiz once a week.  This was regular, easy and attracted a lot of people, a good mix of organised and organic.  However, as the community grew (people like pub quizzes) we realised we needed to do a little more than drink, answer questions and eat bar snacks.  We would probably need to pray together, and read the bible.  We might also want to engage as a group in some intentional out activities, we also wanted to eat together.  The core of the community was made up of young adults and people having their first children.  This meant that life was fairly chaotic for all of us.  If something was going to happen it needed to be scheduled.  We started try to get a simple plan together,  to look at all the things we wanted to do and fit them into a month.

This was great, but from time to time meant we veered towards being over-organised.   We realised this as we saw some in the community approach life together as a series of meetings.  We had to get more organic again, have some bbqs, parties, meals together and spontaneous events and communicate well that we expected people to be part of them.  What we’d learned was that the relationship between organised and organic life wasn’t static, it shifted and changed as the life of the community developed.

We moved to a new area and started a new community.  Again we had a simple structure: we met once a week together.  3 times a month we would look at the bible,  worship and pray for people of peace.  Once a month we went to the pub.  Again this worked for a while but we realised a couple of things.

Firstly the “going to the pub” wasn’t enough to really be missional this time.  We were new to the area and forming a community with people who didn’t have a number of local friendships.  We needed to be more deliberate about finding people of peace.  We needed to get more organised.  We looked together at talents we had and things we could do to connect more with the type of young adults we were trying to reach.  We came up with a plan for regularly running a couple of things that provided a social space for us and them to meet.

Another thing that was going on was that we were approaching the bible/prayer/worship times in a very organic way.  We would chat together over tea about what we might do that night.  A highly intuitive “what shall we do tonight” approach was easy for us.  But not so helpful when we wanted to start releasing others to lead those things.  Again we needed a plan, so simple decisions about what kind of engagement with bible and prayer we would have and (whisper it) a rota on facebook so people knew what they were doing.

Once again as we got more organised the community started to feel more “meetingy” and so we developed some ways to keep organic life going too.  We encouraged lots more trips to the pub and kept an “open house” approach to tea once a week so that any of the community could just turn up and spend time with us as a family.

Again we discovered that as community life grows and develops the dynamics between organized and organic shifted.  We needed to be wise, and listen to God, about where we needed to focus attention.

  • How is your approach to organized and organic life working for you?
  • Which of these tensions comes most easily to you?
  • Are there any tweaks or changes you need to make to community life at this time?

*This isn’t the only, or even the best, way to start a missional community.  They tend to need to have enough people in them to give the thing momentum.

Ben Askew lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire where he has just moved to take up the post of Pioneer Curate at Kairos Church. He is married to Helen and has two children.