Three Keys to Missional Communities: 1. Keeping things Simple
How do you keep the life of a missional community simple? How can you avoid making things too complicated?
Planning your missional community diary can be daunting. It can seem like there’s a lot to fit in. A heartbeat of worship and prayer. Social time together. Discipleship sessions. Opportunities to invite friends. Acts of service. How can we plan rhythms that give expression to all that whilst still keeping things simple?
It is a question we’ve wrestled with a lot over the years. In fact, my MC roared with laughter when they heard that I’d been asked to write on this topic! You see, I love complexity and am comfortable with a fairly complicated diary, and as we are in a fairly unique cultural context we had to figure out appropriate rhythms by trial and error. Needless to say, it took several attempts to find a sustainable pattern for us.
As we have we established simple and predictable rhythms for our community, we find people can more easily connect to the life of the group. For example, we hold a monthly Sunday afternoon tea in the park, and find that friends now expect an invitation and are more prepared to come along. They even remind us when we skip a month!
Simplicity also helps the MC members keep a sustainable lifestyle. Don’t laugh, but when we started, our monthly diary had a ‘discipleship session’ (in a different home each month), an outward focused Bible study in a local bar, a social activity (format, time and venue decided each month) , and a ‘service day’ (theme, time, venue decided each month). There was too much variability, and people were getting confused and worn out keeping their diary organised! We quickly ratcheted back to something simpler.
So here are four lessons on simplicity that we’ve learned the hard way over the last four or five years.
- Adjust gradually. When our home group transitioned into a missional community, we moved from the simplest possible rhythm (an evening meeting once a week) to the most complicated (the one described above)! Oops. It may seem obvious, but now I would recommend changing just one thing at a time. Try it for a while. If it works, keep it. If not, adjust again. Our own practice is now to review our community life once a year and make adjustments in our rhythm at that point.
- Attend to seasons. There is a time for everything, and not everything has to happen at once! There may be a time for widening the reach of your MC and finding new people of peace, a time for working with your people of peace, a time for pulling back for deeper prayer, a time of training, and so on. Whilst I would not recommend flip-flopping between very different rhythms in these times, don’t feel you need to do everything all the time.
- Take an integrated approach. Not everything needs its own meeting! We are moving away from different events for different aspects of MC life in favour of a simpler structure – in this case a fortnightly community night – that covers several areas (e.g. fellowship, prayer, discipleship …) in such a way that we can invite friends to join us. This increases regularity and predictability. We will also maintain our Sunday afternoons in the park.
- Watch for the organic. You don’t need to programme everything! As long as there is enough discipling going on and a clear missional vision, things will start to bubble up by themselves. Examples of organic life in our MC include a monthly men’s night out, a Christianity Explored course amongst a certain group of friends, and various 1:1 discipling relationships. In fact, by over-programming you will reduce the margin in your team’s lives and discourage them from launching these kind of organic initiatives.
I would love to hear about your own experiences. What have been the difficulties and successes you’ve encountered in this area?
Richard Medcalf is an Englishman living with his family in Paris. He blogs at www.theuntaming.wordpress.com