Three Keys to Missional Communities: 3. Growing Sustainably

We believe MCs should be Simple, Reproducible and Sustainable; read our posts on ‘Keeping Things Simple’  and ‘Making Things Reproducible‘ from last year. This final post is all about growing sustainably so that we don’t career headlong into burnout whilst leading a Missional Community. 

When Jesus talks about the growth potential of the Kingdom of God in the Parable of the Sower, the level of multiplication is huge – 30, 60, or 100 times the initial investment.  But how might we shape our missional communities so that they might sustain any level of growth?  We’ve kept things simple, we’ve tried to set patterns that are reproducible, but what should our response be as things grow and develop so that we can steward new life well and not feel overwhelmed?


Live the Sabbath

Living sustainably should always take us back to examine our engagement with Sabbath – God’s pattern for spiritual rest and physical recreation in individuals and communities.  Sometimes leading missional communities will be hard work, new ventures can take effort for a season of investing in a new culture.  For example, our missional community is running an Alpha Course this term on a Sunday afternoon, meeting in a local leisure centre.  The core team are doing a fabulous job of taking it in turns to cook a hot meal for 20 or so people every week and then take it to the room for the session, doing the talk, and looking after the little ones so that most of the adults can be in a small group.  We can probably keep it up for 10 weeks, but we know that over the Easter holidays and into the Summer term we will need to take a break from this, and probably return to gathering in a simpler way for a few weeks again.  Communities need to have spaces to breath and develop rhythms of rest as well as activity; otherwise burnout can happen too easily.

Adapt & Change

We’ve noticed that although some things started out lightweight and low maintenance, as they grow they can start to take on a whole life of their own.  Take time to reassess – is the pattern of making a homemade cake every week that you started out with when you were 12 people still feasible as you grow towards 50?  Do you need to adapt (e.g. get more people involved in the cake baking to sustain the original pattern) or change (e.g. transition to shop bought cookies)?


Look to Multiplication

Finally, the principle of growth in the New Testament is not addition but multiplication.  If the practicalities of organizing, meeting and sustaining relationships with your growing community seems to be getting hard to maintain, then maybe it’s time to be looking to multiply the life of the group.  This means continually identifying and nurturing those who have the potential to lead something similar but different in the future.  This can be one of the hardest things for missional communities to work through, and many groups simply stop growing by failing to grapple with this issue. Yet the fruitfulness that is sustainable can often be a process of investing in something, seeing the fruit grow and then giving your best people and resources away to establish a new frontier in a different place.  Who has the potential with the right level of investment to be developing something new out of the life of your group?  Will you take the courageous step of releasing that potential in them?

gareth irvine


Gareth 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.