5 Trends: Customizing Missional Communities for Your Context

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This is the 2nd of the 5 trends to watch in the missional community conversation this year. These trends are not necessarily changes to the missional community and church conversation, they are the result of the local church wrestling deeply with how to live missionally as a community to their context.

The 2nd trend: Customizing Missional for Each Church

Customizing Missional for Each Church
The books and resources surrounding missional communities are largely pragmatic. The initial stream of resources flowed out of the success of a local context with local rhythms and practices. They have been helpful, but when embraced as the method for all places and all times, they lack the ability to meet the needs of every context.

The next phase for any church seeking to be missional is to take missional principles and adapt them to the gifts, needs, and missional reality of their local context.

The next phase for a church to be missional is taking principles & customizing them for their context. @logangentry

Missional Practices Don’t Work in Every Context, but Missional Principles Do
When I first began to dive into the missional community conversation I read everything I could, from Alan Hirsch’s Forgotten Ways, Neil Cole’s Organic Church to the Field Guide for Missional Communities by 3dm, but it was Steve Timmis and Tim Chester’s Total Church that finally captured my attention. Their first 3 chapters voiced the questions jumping in my head, “If we started with the gospel, what type of church would be formed?”

I loved this question and it led me to other leaders in the missional community conversation like Jeff Vanderstelt at Soma Communities and Hugh Halter at Adullam. Then Verge Conference stepped on the scene to gather the theologians and practitioners. Everyone published books, articles, and guides to instruct us in missional communities.

These resources were like fresh water for the thirsty missional soul, but I began to realize something about these books, methods, and approaches.

Missional practices don’t work in every context, but missional principles do.

I’ve started, led, multiplied, tried and failed missional communities in the suburbs, in college ministry, and now in New York. Every community is unique, but the temptation is to treat every missional community the same. This happens when there is an emphasis on missional practices instead of principles.

Missional practices focus on the everyday actions, regular rhythms, and needed content, structure, and method for missional communities. This is the ethical, or practical, result of missional theology and principles which is essential, but missional communities are never a one-size-fits-all model.

Missional Principles
The missional community conversation is moving towards developing local, customized approaches to fit each church and context instead of institutionalized missional practices defined by the missional professionals.

The Missional Community conversation is moving toward customized approaches instead of institutional missional practices.

The missional professionals never set out to dictate the exact content, structure, and rhythms for every community. They sought to share the great work of God in their church for the benefit of His global church. It was us, the churches who were learning, who took their stories, resources, and celebration and codified them as a new missional law to be followed for the same missional results. We copied and pasted their ideas and ways into our contexts assuming it to be the perfect formula.

In writing, we call the copy-and-paste approach plagiarism, in missional communities we too often call it normal best practices.

As churches have sought to implement this new missional law, they have seen the shortcomings of copying and pasting the same practices, content, and rhythms everywhere. They are once again questioning the missional approach altogether. The temptation of many is to say it just doesn’t work, instead of recognizing that no copy and paste approach to church ministry works. This is leading to a return to missional principles which is good news for each church and the conversation as a whole.

The core missional principles are gospel identity, word-centered, mission oriented, and community driven with an aim toward contextual sensitivity.

Each of these can be fleshed out in their own articles (making my job here & pageviews so much easier! Blog-hack!), but the focus here is on taking principles into local custom practices.

These principles can and should look different in practice depending on your context and the season of your community. You must do the work of prayer, listening to and following God, and collaborating as a community to assess and implement these principles into practices that glorify God and join Him on mission.

Adapting for Your Context: Missional Communities are a Custom Model
A (little too long) article like this can make this sound easy, but it is difficult to develop your own approach with these principles. I like how Dr. Tim Keller describes preaching and think it applies here.

“When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.”

How do you develop your own voice or practices?

Customizing Missional Communities requires adapting to the scriptures, communion with God in prayer, participating in the culture and lives of your neighbors, then assessing your approach together as a community.

Missional Communities do not come with an IKEA manual and extra wood pegs, they must be formed from God into the culture and not separate from them.

Missional communities must be formed from communion with God into the culture around them, not from missional manuals of others.

Even as I try to guide you into how, I’m hesitant to provide a 5-step plan to take the 4 principles of missional communities to get the 3 results you are looking for, but I’ll provide the following simple guidance.

  • Prayerfully read the gospels, acts, and one epistle from Peter, Paul and John. Ask God to show you the differences in each personality or community and why.
  • Ask your neighbors, co-workers, and friends outside of the church questions about what they love, how they spend their time, and what they wish a church would be like. Listen and observe, sit with God with the answers.
  • Think about your community and where they are in understanding God, His mission, and the culture around them. Consider the journey you and your community will need to take to repent, change, and join God’s mission by faith.
  • Have conversations with your community that are open-ended toward the type of church their neighbors and friends need. Be open to church as you know it changing.
  • Seek to establish ANY rhythm that will engage with God and others, then be flexible to adapt as you follow God on His mission. At some point, quit talking, and learn by doing, failing, and changing.

Trust in the God who is already on mission to your neighbors and friends and not in the missionary of another context to guide you.

The greatest joy is found when we communion with God, then watch Him work in our lives and in the lives of those we love. We give Him the glory, the praise, and our worship increases. It’s so much better than following a manual.

5 Trends: Customize Missional for Your Church. Missional communities need to adapt for every context. @logangentry