Growing an Oikos: Changing a Culture


In the second part of our series looking at how we develop Families on Mission, Gareth Irvine suggests how to create a culture where everyone belongs to the family and everyone participates in the mission of the family. You can read Part one on Changing Mindsets here.

Last Sunday our extended family spent our afternoon going to a nearby splash pool followed by a picnic in the sunshine.  We’re a missional community of around 25 people including couples, single adults, teenagers, children and babies all at different stages on our shared journey of following Jesus.  Although it was quite a logistical challenge getting the right number of cars, drivers & child car seats together in the right place, there was much laughter, fun (an abundance of crisps!) and I’m really glad I get to be part of this family.  After the picnic the kids went off to play in the park whilst the grownups lazed in the sun and chatted about life.  Everyone brought food to share at the picnic and we spread it all out over a large rug and then dived in.  At the end, there was still loads left for those that wanted to take some home.

How did we get there?  How did we somehow get to a place where everyone was contributing to the life of this extended family in a fun & generous way?

mc picnicFirstly, you need to IDENTIFY what is missing or lacking in the culture that you want to change.  For us, working in a challenging urban environment, we were really keen not to create a provider-client relationship, because that’s not how Jesus did family with people.  So we identified that as our missional community took shape and began to grow in its identity, we wanted generosity to each other and those beyond ourselves to become a key part of who we all were – where everyone got to play and bring their contribution to the life of the family – recognizing that this would look different for each of us, but possible for everyone in some way.

Next, we needed to intentionally LIVE the culture shift we wanted to change, even when it didn’t always feel like it was fair or anyone was taking any notice.  For us, this meant not just buying the cheapest value biscuits but sometimes taking a little more effort and a few more resources to demonstrate generosity that actually costs us something – like baking a cake.  It means as leaders of the missional community or the spiritual parents of your oikos you will need to sometimes go and help with the washing up (even if you’ve already cooked) just to demonstrate that everyone participates in the life of the family.

Thirdly, we needed to create regular and predictable PATTERNS that allowed others to understand and take their first steps in joining us in expressing the culture we were growing into.  This means that when we gather together, we have begun to offer the same opportunities for people to contribute – in a way that is easily accessible for most people in the extended family.  For about 8 months, we have been meeting monthly for a ‘family fun day out’, which is one of the ways we express our ‘out’ dimension by having fun together in a way that others can feel invited into the life of our family.  Each month we have always encouraged people to bring something to share – biscuits, snacks, drinks etc.  To begin with, we found we needed to contribute most of what was being eaten together, and yet we would celebrate and acknowledge whenever someone brought something – however small or random it might have been!  The key thing was that the expectation that if you can bring something to share, then great; but don’t worry if you can’t, you can of course still come – has now led to a culture where people always feel welcome (belonging) and yet also feel able to join in where and when they can (participation) because the patterns of how to do that are simple & predictable.

  • What is the culture shift you are trying to change?
  • What is the discipline you will live personally as you lead into this?
  • What would a simple, predictable pattern look like that allows others to join you in the journey to this discipline becoming part of the culture of the family?


gareth irvineGareth Irvine, together with his wife Jenny and daughter planted a new missional community base called Saint Aidan’s in the north of the city of Coventry in the summer of 2012. They took a small team of young adults with them, to live as an incarnational community focused around prayer and mission. They’re currently involved in Kidz Klub which works with children from challenging housing estates, and visit about 30 families each week on the estate where they live as well as gathering together for worship on the estate.