Over the past several years, I have written here and in our newsletter about missional communities. Liz and I have shared stories about trying to start a missional community here in Clontarf. And we have shared our hope of helping to start missional communities across the city of Dublin.
That all sounds great...if you know what we mean when we say missional community.
I want to take space here to begin explaining what we are saying when we say 'missional community'.
According to the people who write about this stuff, there are 5 characteristics that describe a missional community:
(Up, In, Out is a way to describe our relationships: with God, with those in our Christian community, and with those outside our Christian community.)
You might notice that the number of people involved is not large enough to be a church. It is also too large to be a small group. (more on that in a follow-up post.)
For most of the time we were leading the church in Ithaca, we didn't have missional communities. We held weekly Sunday worship gatherings (generally 200 give or take 50 people depending on the week) and weekly small group meetings (usually 6 to 14 people).
At this point you might wonder, "Then how did you end up so committed to missional communities as the key form for church planting in Dublin?"
So, that is a technical definition...what do missional communities actually look like?Although we would have never used the term back then, Liz and I were part of missional communities for about 20 years, from the mid-1980s to around 2005.
It started in Fredonia, NY as college students. We got involved in a Christian Fellowship on our campus. During that time I experienced growth in my walk with God (discipleship), and a depth of friendships (community) that I had never experienced in my life.
After Fredonia, we moved to Albany, NY (1989) and then Ithaca, NY (1994) to start university ministries there. On both of those campuses, we made deep friendships that have lasted almost 25 to 30 years, despite our lives taking us all to different places across the globe. We saw people come to faith in Jesus, and grow in their faith.
As I was thinking about this recently, I recognized our early years of church planting in Ithaca used this "missional community" model. We had a Sunday worship gathering and small groups, but there was a group of us that in many ways functioned as a missional community. And again, many of these are people we formed life-long friendships with.
We used that model to church plant in Ithaca because, after 15 years in campus ministry, it was the only thing we knew.
But over time, that missional community aspect of life in our church faded.
I remember sitting in my office towards the end of my time in Ithaca, and it hit me that I had not been discipling people for years. Like most of the churches we were connected with, I said things like, "discipleship happens in small groups," but it didn't. It just gave me "cover" for not discipling.
As we hit the ground here in Dublin, we knew that discipleship had to be core to what we do and not something we gave lip service to.
In the midst of thinking through that, we began learning more about missional communities. And there we rediscovered something that was already part of our DNA...something that we've been missing the past several years.
For those of you who were part of those campus ministries, or our early years of church planting in Ithaca, I hope, this stirs up some 'That's what that was!' moments for you. I look back on that time as some of the most fulfilling, life-giving (and fun) times I've had in ministry.
I hope that helps explain a bit more we are talking about when we talk about missional communities in Dublin.