Does it matter where my MC meets?
Geography has always been a big question for our missional community. We’re called Neighbours because, like the theme song goes, ‘everybody needs good neighbours…’. Our vision is to seek God’s kingdom in our immediate neighbourhood. And we’re in the inner-city, so when I say neighbourhood, I’m thinking of a pretty small area, geographically. For my husband Andy and I, that basically covers the 4 storey block of flats in which we live, and occasionally as far as the other ten buildings on our council estate.
No-one else from our church lives on our estate, let alone our building, so Neighbours is made up of other families and households who have a similar vision – but for their own neighbourhoods. The streets and corridors they tread daily, the people they bump into on the stairwells, or the kids that their kids kick a football round with. We mostly live on council estates and we love the idea of the inner-city being somewhere people want to stay and raise their families rather than somewhere they want to flee.
It’s a strange set up for a missional community, because while we share a vision at the conceptual level, the outworking of it happens in several different places, and we can’t all be invested in one another’s neighbourhoods in a very deep way. We hit up against the challenge time and again and wish that we all just ran a cafe together or something else concrete and mono-locational, and could be clear on where we should all meet, and what we should all do.
Geography and presence matter hugely to us, and to our church more broadly as we think about missional communities. We want to be visible – to nick an idea I recently heard from the excellent Paul Sparks – we want to be “characters” in our neighbourhoods and networks – faces that people recognise because they see us in the same places, bump into us, know that we’re invested in a very specific and consistent corner of the earth…
But that doesn’t always mean that a venue for meeting is obvious. For us it means being mobile. We rotate around different neighbourhoods, showing up for events, serving into whatever different households have going on in different seasons. It sometimes means prayer walks; in other months we swell the numbers at community parties in the tenants and residents’ halls, or help to host house-warmings. What matters to us is that we get alongside one another in the physical neighbourhoods we are trying to love and to serve. We get a feel for the place, we meet people of peace we’ll be able to have in our minds as we pray for one another. We honour the physical spaces that our brothers and sisters feel called to.
I’m not saying every community needs to feel called to a specific location (although if you do, then I’d recommend gathering there. It might not work to do something that involves singing or Bible study in many spaces, but there’s usually a way to develop a rhythm of being present in an appropriate way!) Your community might be much more mobile, or network-based than ours. But I’d still encourage you to think about what locations are key to your community. Where do you want to be known and recognised as a regular?
And experiment! Try out some places that feel less comfortable and obvious to you. Maybe alternate between spaces where you can pray and share and build one another up as a missional community, and places where you’ll be stretched and need to learn how to serve and listen together (maybe in the end those places won’t seem so separate!).
Jenny Flannagan is part of the leadership of The Well Community Church in Camberwell, and has been leading a missional community called Neighbours with her husband Andy for the past four years. She is a writer and actor, and has also spent the past 11 years working part-time with Tearfund. She and Andy have a nearly two year old and are expecting another small person in January.