What Is A Missional Community?

In a previous post, I worked through the primary reasons we pursue missional communities at The Austin Stone.

Whether you’re new to the idea of missional communities, or have been implementing them for a long time, I’d love to start some dialogue around what they actually are. Is a missional community something new, or just a repackaging of an old idea?

In this article, I will take a look at this question:

“What is a Missional Community?”

This article will be unpacked in the parts below:

  1. Part 1 – Other’s Definitions of Missional Community
  2. Part 2 – A Vision for Missional Community
  3. Part 3 – A Definition of Missional Community
  4. Part 4 – On Mission with God
  5. Part 5 – A Pocket of People
  6. Part 6 – More Than a Bible Study

Other’s Definitions of Missional Community

When others interact with an idea, it provides clarity on your own thinking.  Below are some ways that other movements around the country would define missional communities.  I have learned from each one of them:

All of these have distinct language, but they all share a common conviction that the community is primarily oriented around mission, not community.

A Vision for Missional Community

Like many churches, The Austin Stone has a very clear vision of what we believe God has called us to.  We phrase our vision this way:

To be a New Testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ.

Through years of experience, prayer and study, we have gained a clearer understanding what it means to be this church in the city of Austin.

Our mission, the application of our vision to our context, became this:

To build a great city, renewed and redeemed by a gospel movement, by being a church for the city of Austin that labors to advance the gospel throughout the nations.

As we’ve mulled over that mission in our city, we were consistently pressed to consider that there are pockets of people throughout Austin and the nations who have not been renewed and redeemed by the gospel.

There are so many in the city of Austin who would not even consider darkening the door of a Sunday worship service.

Faced with this particular challenge, we realized that some of our forms needed to change if we were ever going to see a movement ignited.

That meant changing on the smallest level: we must declare and demonstrate the gospel in community on mission to every pocket of people for a movement to occur.

The Austin Stone, therefore, is in the process of becoming a network of missional communities.  We are teaching small groups of people, called of God, joined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who by the power of the Holy Spirit to  pursue the renewal and redemption of their community and the nations together.

A Definition of Missional Community

Our vision sets the stage for us to talk more about a missional community.

We are often asked “what is a missional community?”  Although definitions are limited in conveying the fullness of an idea, a missional community, as we would define it, is:

A community of Christ followers on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that demonstrates tangibly and declares creatively the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific pocket of people.

Because it’s impossible to capture everything we mean into a sentence, let me take some time to expand on what we mean by this statement:

The first piece of our definition that I want to highlight is this:

A Community of Christians”

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has redeemed a people for himself whom He empowers and sends to be his witnesses, as we see in John 20:21 and Matthew 28:16-20.

Additionally, as Jesus indicates in John 13 and John 17, the community of God is sent for a purpose.

We are called and sent to show a hurting, broken, and dying world that Jesus is who he says he is and did what he said he did.

The purpose of Christian community has always been to demonstrate God’s character to the world.  We do this as individuals for sure, but our communities are to be defined in this way too.

Another facet of this part of our definition is that being a faithful witness requires a community. You won’t be an effective missionary without the apologetic of your community.

We often say that we need to do “Lone Ranger” evangelism, but more often that not, it’s a dead end.  Community is essential to mission!

On Mission with God

When we say, “On Mission with God”, we want to be clear about something. God is about bringing glory to His name and establishing His kingdom and reign in the world.  It’s what He’s always been up to throughout redemptive history!

God is saving and blessing a people through the finished work of Jesus that they would make disciples and bring his kingdom to the world around them.  The life of the community is bound up in participating in God’s mission in the world and making disciples of Jesus.

Most churches would not disagree with us on this particular issue, but when it comes to practically working out what it means to make disciples, everyone has a different definition and strategy.  We believe that mission of making disciples should play out in two primary ways in EVERY community, from large to small, and every individual:

The first way is to “Demonstrate the Gospel Tangibly”. Just as Jesus came demonstrating the kingdom through selfless acts of service, we actively look for opportunities to meet the felt and real needs of our neighbors. We seek to become a blessing to our neighbors, and demonstrate the reality of God’s new kingdom.  When you look at Jesus, however, he did not simply stop at healing and meeting needs.  He consistently spoke a true message of great hope to those whom he encountered.  Just look at the story of the woman at the well: He met her where she was, but through her expressed need he spoke of the true needs of her heart.

Therefore, as communities patterned after Jesus’ life, we “Declare the Gospel Creatively”.  A missional community listens to and understands the stories of their neighbors in order to be able to tell the Gospel Story in ways that are Good News to those specific people.  We want our communities to wrestle with and understand how to speak the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection in power are indeed good news to their neighbors.

A Pocket of People

Finally, we turn to who the community exists for: “A Pocket of People”.  God’s grace in Jesus is good news for those in the church and those outside the church – we all need the gospel!  

Just as the Father sent the Son to a specific time, place, and people, so the Spirit does with the church, sending us to specific groups of neighbors.  A missional community is seeking to wrap their lives up with the pocket of people that God has placed them in.

For us, a “neighbor” is anyone you cannot avoid or anyone who has needs that you have the resources to meet.  Your neighbor may be those who live next-door, those you work with, those you play with, or those with whom you share some sort of affinity.

Your neighbor may also be someone you have little in common with but whom God has placed squarely in your path or specifically called or commanded you to care for.

A missional community is a group of people who have a common set of neighbors and are intentionally living lives among them together.

More Than a Bible Study

To review the definition of a missional community:

A community of Christ followers on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that demonstrates tangibly and declares creatively the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific pocket of people.

We could probably expand several volumes on on theological, philosophical and practical levels. I want to highlight one distinction that is important for us in pursuing these kinds of missional communities at The Stone.

A missional community by nature is intended to be more than a typical bible study.

For us, a missional community is not just a bible study, it’s not just a fellowship group, it’s not just a social action club, it’s not just a support group, and it’s certainly not just a weekly meeting.

Healthy missional communities include all of those things over time, but it’s a family of missionaries learning to follow Jesus in every area of their lives.

My friend Seth McBee has illustrated this idea well:

Making Disciples

Bible Study vs. MC

A missional community is a group of people asking “What does loving my city and neighbor really look like?” and “how can we make disciples of Jesus together?”

Often times, our missional communities realize Jesus may ask far more of them than they ever thought. The good news though, is that we are experiencing and knowing Jesus where He is…on mission to the broken and lost.