What next? – Some thoughts on the future of MC’s in NWI.

This is my last post reflecting on our past three years in Crown Point, Indiana.  You can see an overview of the whole series in my previous post, Polygamy, making disciples and church planting.

The last question is What Next? Could missional communities as a “ministry vehicle” still have a place in NWI?

I’m convinced that smaller, simpler, more relational expressions of church are needed long-term to disciple the next generations. While the larger expressions of church have a much needed place in our area, it’s effectiveness will wind down like a mechanical clock. Tremors are already happening. Many younger people are disconnecting from church and honestly, many younger folks in church don’t have a Christian worldview or practice. The larger form of church does a great job gathering, but it doesn’t disciple well. It can’t. Disciple-making is life-on-life at its core and there are few leaders freed up to disciple others.

4925267732_8b4a2cf887_bRight now, though, most people in the Region – Christians and not – can’t imagine an expression of church outside of the large gathering. So what to do?

I believe another attempt at missional communities in our area will need to be some kind of larger gathering – small expression hybrid. I propose several scenarios.

First scenario: Locally from within a mega-church

Our region “just got mega-church” 10-15 years ago. This is where I’d expect new, fresh ministry in our area.  They went through great pains to convince the church to “go relevant and contemporary.” There are still scars and perhaps open wounds from those days. I wonder if the freshness of the battle might be the very thing that gets in the way to seeing the cultural shifts and the discipling vacuum. But many of the innovators and forward thinkers are part of these churches, so I’d expect that there will be more and more folks wanting to try simpler expressions of the church from within the larger churches. I see it right now in younger, middle-level paid leaders. It will only be time before it trickles down to lay leaders.

It will take a brave senior pastor/leader to actively support this movement. They will need to relationally and spiritually support budding leaders and be willing to let them try and fail. That leader will need to be more interested in trying new things and learning from mistakes than bottom lines. In fact, I would expect that more relational, disciple-making, missional movements would not help the bottom line of giving, attendance, and volunteers for the weekend gatherings at least for a time. BUT they will see fruit in new ways that will give life to the whole.

A few younger leaders (2-3 families or singles) need to be released to work together at building a first missional community around a specific neighborhood or network of people. They need accountability metrics, but in new ways. They need freedom to not be at all the meetings and worship gatherings of the larger church, but still connect in meaningful ways with the larger community.

What larger churches should NOT do is to start a new program called “missional communities.” Programming change is the default. But something like this needs to start small on the side. The best case scenario is that the senior leader is actively involved in the “side thing.”

A church should also NOT try this without the active support of the senior leader. Passivity might as well be antagonism. The core philosophy is too different between the two expressions of church. The senior leader would need to be a champion if not actively involved in starting it.

Second Scenario : As a “site” of a multi-siting church or a focused outreach community of a smaller church

A missional community might work really well if a church wants to reach a new neighborhood or network of people, but doesn’t have enough people to start a new site/plant/campus there. A missional community (/ies) could form around that place and the community worship with the larger church once a month (or more?), but have its own rhythms for the rest of the month.

This would need much of the same pieces in place as #1 : support and relationship, access to larger gathering resources, freedom to innovate and create their own expression and rhythms, invitation to stay in close relationship without expectations for lots of time spent at the larger worship gatherings.

Third scenario : As a church plant out of an existing church

I think this could work well if a sizable group of people (say 75, two or three missional communities) were sent out from an existing church. Perhaps they already existed as missional communities within an church for some time. They would need to have the capacity to put on a simple larger worship gathering.

This group would still benefit from relationship with the “mother church.” The plant might even need help maintaining a simple weekly gathering because life on mission and in relationship are time-consuming.

But they would need some kind of public worship gathering to connect with the NWI culture.

Fourth scenario : As a joining of several independent missional communities / house churches into one network

I thought this might happen to us a few times. We had friendships with several other missional communities or organic “house” churches in the greater NWI area. I could envision three or four of these groups networking together to have a regular larger worship gathering. The gathering could be simple, but enough of a larger group to connect with the need of “Regionites” to have a “regular” gathering. There would need to be at least 75 people at a whole group gathering to make it work.

The independent spirit and fear of becoming a “brick church” would be the main hindrances. But for the sake of reaching our current culture, they could overcome that.

Are there other scenarios that I’m missing? What might they be?

Which scenario do you think might work the best in our current culture in NWI? (…Or in your area if you are from a more “nominal Christian”culture as we are?)

 Creative Commons Compass Study pic courtesy of Flickr user Calsidyrose.