Rev. Mark England
We think something is missing in the way we are the church. We think something is missing in how we lead others in the way of Jesus. We think there are barriers in the way we are church. We think there are barriers that limit our ability to be in relationship with people who feel far from God or far from a faith community. We think the formation of Neighborhood Missional Groups through our congregation is one way to create a vehicle for discipleship and mission currently missing.
Currently, leaders at Kinsmen are being trained to launch Neighborhood Missional Groups. Below are some questions that I have been asked about this new initiative. We are thankful for grants from both Live On and the synod that help us offset the cost of the training.
What is a Neighborhood Missional Group?
A Neighborhood Missional Group is a home-based group of 20 to 40 people who exist to be in relationship with the community around them. These groups have designated trained leaders, a predictable pattern of meeting together, and a common purpose. Their common purpose may focus on an identified need, being present in a specific neighborhood, or being present in a specific network of relationships.
Group members seek to build relationships with others outside the group and invite them into the life of the group. Membership of these groups will be made up of both members of the congregation and those who want to participate in the life of the group, even if they are not sure yet about Jesus or organized religion.
Why a Neighborhood Missional Group?
We think there is something missing in the way we are church that becomes a barrier. A Neighborhood Missional Group provides an organized yet more flexible, contextual expression of the church. We believe this type of group will be better suited to form meaningful relationships with those who feel far from God or far from a faith community.
We believe it will be more meaningful for our members to invite certain people they meet into one of these common cause groups than inviting them to Sunday morning at our congregation. We believe it will be easier because joining in a common cause may be initially less intimidating than Sunday morning worship. And we believe it will be more meaningful because participating in these groups will give them a place to belong to a community shaped by Christ, even before they believe.
Because the group needs to be small enough to have some kind of meaningful life together but large enough to be able to make an impact and reach others. Once a group grows beyond 40, or even before, the group is encouraged to multiply. Multiplication happens when a leader, who has been developed in the group, is inspired to form a new Neighborhood Missional Group in another neighborhood or among another network of people or around another need.
What is life like in a Neighborhood Missional Group?
This type of group meets in an organized way 2-4 times a month with members connecting in-between those times in less organized ways. The group patterns itself on the life of Jesus; time in prayer, time investing in one another, and time forming relationships with others outside the group. The meetings themselves are around a potluck meal, with some time spent in prayer, devotion, and sharing, but with much of the time spent on planning and implementing various outreach activities.
Wait, what’s the difference between a Neighborhood Missional Group and a Small Group?
A Small Group, while sharing many traits in common with a Neighborhood Missional Group, has a different focus. A Small Group focuses on deepening relationships as a members study scripture together. The size of 6-12 members enables this kind of intimacy. While strong relationships are formed among members of a Neighborhood Missional Group, the focus of a Neighborhood Missional Group is reaching new people.
Because of the history and intimacy already shared in a Small Group, there is a barrier and even hesitation to new members joining. It is difficult for someone to join a Small Group that already has shared so much together. Also, the spiritual content of small groups is usually high and that can be a barrier for someone who is not yet sure what they think about Jesus or organized religion. While there is spiritual content in a Neighborhood Missional Group, the spiritual content is kept low enough so that it is easier to invite others into the life of the group.
Wait, if the spiritual content is low, how do newer members learn to follow Jesus?
As newer people to the group become more regular in the life of the group, they will be invited into a Discipleship Group. At the center of each Neighborhood Missional Group is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is the way people learn to let their life be shaped by the life of Jesus and learn to do the things that Jesus did. The Discipleship Group is led by certain members of the Neighborhood Missional Group. The Discipleship Group meets for a specific period of time, usually between nine months and a year. During this time, the leader invests in the life of the members of the group in such a way that their character is shaped by the character of Jesus and they are capable of leading Discipleship Groups or Neighborhood Missional Groups in the future.
How are these groups connected to our congregation?
There will be high accountability but low control. While these groups will be led by members of our congregation and their focus will be shaped by their context, their leaders will be accountable to the leadership of the congregation. The leadership of the congregation will not control specifically how these groups are in mission but the leaders will be accountable to the greater mission of God through the congregation. And, in a very real way, these groups are the congregation since the church is not simply a building or just what we do on Sunday morning. Just as we are the church gathered on Sunday morning in worship, we are the church scattered in mission in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces throughout the week.
Isn’t that a lot of work for the leaders?
Yes and no. The Neighborhood Missional Groups are set up to be lightweight and low maintenance groups. Every member contributes to the life of the group, from set up to providing for the group and clean up. The leaders, while not bogged down in the details and tasks of group life, are investing in the lives of the members of the group.
How will leaders be trained?
The grants from Live On and from the synod are allowing us to join a two-year training process that is led by pastors who are equipped to lead churches through this process. Through a two-year process, we are learning how to build a culture of discipleship in our household and our congregation, learning how to form and lead neighborhood missional groups, learning how to build a leadership pipeline to multiply missional leaders for these groups, and learning how to lead networks of neighborhood missional groups.
How many people will join our congregation because of these Neighborhood Missional Groups?
We don’t know. But what we do know is through the Neighborhood Missional Groups our members will be equipped in a new way to build relationships with those who feel far from God or far from a faith community. We do know that these groups will be set up in such a way that new members can be invited into a common cause community shaped by Christ, even before they believe. We do know that the Holy Spirit will work in these new relationships and, at the right time, these new people will be invited into intentional discipleship. We do know the leaders in these groups will know how to lead those new or returning to the faith in the way of Jesus. And we know that the purpose of launching these new groups is to reach new people for whom joining us for worship at our congregation is too great an initial barrier.
We hope that this new initiative will help us remove unnecessary barriers to following in the life of Jesus. We hope that this new initiative will help us see how we are the church in our neighborhoods, in our networks, and wherever we join in God’s mission.