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Aug 03, 2016 | The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle

Missional Communities Give Voice to the Gospel

The Gospel of God in Christ Jesus will not be deterred by economic variables and, even now, is at work in the world outside the buildings and institutions of the Church. God is the sower of seeds in the world. 

I’ve called churches in our Diocese to establish 50 missional communities in five years because we seek to write a new narrative—one of a growing and thriving Christian community. We are making the future today. We seek new ways to turn the tables on the economic stumbling blocks characteristic of the one priest+one building=1 congregation model and to provide a fully voiced Gospel in our communities.

Our “attractional” church model undertakes evangelism through invitation and welcome, and by connecting people within a congregation. A “sending” church model undertakes evangelism by multiplying Christian communities of all sizes, either by establishing second locations or missional communities, or both. These missional communities—or small batch Christian communities—are established by a group of people about the size of an extended family, sent into the world to live as missionaries who chose to serve a specific group. (Small Batch, p. 120). 

The initiative to start missional communities also takes a chapter from the Maker Movement, which began in the technology industry and spread throughout our culture. This “small batch” approach to creating new techniques and processes—new products—centers on small, local and sustainable goals. It can be seen in the microbrewery explosion, artisan chocolatiers, local bakeries and coffee roasters, things like the rise of farmers markets selling locally sourced products. 

Christian communities also can be “small batch—local, organic and sustainable.” These varied and nontraditional expressions of faith develop when one or more persons are sent out, or feel called to leave their traditional congregation in order to gather others in small Christian communities. The full life of the Church in missional communities is often expressed through service, fellowship, sharing meals, Christian formation and worship. Such a movement is not new in Christianity but rooted deep in our most ancient texts and traditions.

We understand that growing churches aren’t much good to God if we are not transforming people’s lives from disciples to apostles and sending them out to share the good news, transform the culture and make a better neighborhood, community and society for all people. Future Christian mission is dependent upon embracing and planting a variety of these communities. The resulting diversity serves to make our mission less fragile and less dependent on one model of church. 

People who begin missional communities do so without the goal of bringing those gathered into the sending congregation. They immerse themselves in a local neighborhood or mission field to try something new for the sake of God’s mission. Theirs is a ministry of relationships. Missional communities may have a priest, but do not require one. They rely on healthy, well-equipped lay people who have been trained to create and serve within a local community. 

We have made two strategic hires on the diocesan Mission Amplification team to help provide resources to assist our churches to become more engaged in God’s mission and to develop missional communities. Jason Evans, Missioner for Missional Communities, has enormous experience and, along with the Rev. Beth Magill, Associate Missioner for Congregational Initiatives, will bring a wealth of fresh ideas and new energy to this work. Changes in our Commission on Ministry and the Iona School for Ministry are designed to extend a broader invitation to lay people to consider new and growing leadership roles in Church, whether as deacon, bivocational or stipendiary priests, or lay leaders (see more on page 25). 

Our shared vision for the Diocese also includes planting 25 new churches by 2020. Saint Mary Magdalene, Manor; Church of the Cross, Austin; and our new west Houston Hispanic initiative are new and growing church plants. Christ Church South, Tyler (page 12); Good Shepherd on the Hill, Austin; and Grace, Georgetown are all second locations. Many missional communities are gathering strength and more are planned (see story on St. Isidore, page 8). 

The first Christians were sent into the world where they met neighbors and built community in which their whole life of worship, service, study, sharing and ministry took place. Our missional communities reflect this tradition. They can take many forms: gathering in homes, prisons, pubs, nursing homes and even laundromats; they focus on sharing and building faith among diverse populations. Wherever people build relationships, worship and serve together in Christian community, aligning their fellowship with God’s movement in the world over the course of time, there you have found a missional community. 

We help people live through difficult lives with the love of God, our hope in his grace and mercy, and with the loving hands of friends and neighbors. Missional communities provide effective ways to build deep relationships with God and with others, led by people who are being called by God. These diverse expressions of the gathered Body of Christ provide many ways for God’s people to find a home in the Episcopal Church. 

I invite you to help find and bring to life new and unique ways to create Christian community outside of our churches and to consider where God calls you today.

 

The Bishop’s address to the 167th Council: tinyurl.com/counciladdress

Learn more about missional communities: tinyurl.com/amplifiedchurch

 

Small Batch explores the emerging denominational movement into planting missional communities. Order today at candrewdoyle.com.

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