Monday, February 07, 2011

144. Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom

It was not too long ago I sat in a room with Mike Breen and Alan Hirsch for a weekend of discussion around things pertaining to mission. Needless to say, it was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Mike and 3D Ministries.

Mike and Alex have recently come out with a book that, for all practical purposes, solves the riddle of what missional communities look like. It is not often I point to something and say "do it like that." I always have a certain suspicion of anyone trying to franchise or replicate a model that is obviously successful in one context, but has limited application in other contexts because of its contextual nature.

Yet this book, Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide, is perhaps the first book I have seen on the missional front that has the potential to revolutionize the way we see missional communities in almost every Western context. This is no fad or buzz frenzy. Breen and Absalom have managed to package almost a lifetime of experimentation, learning and practice into a very accessible, "anyone can get it" kind of book about how to mobilize people for misisonal movement.

I will highlight three reasons why I think this book is a must read, and several points I think tag line the content of the book.

First, Breen is no rookie when it comes to missional communities. He has spent the last 20 years of his life experimenting, practicing, honing the art of missional communities. This book is the result of massive amounts of time, energy and collaboration centered around the practice of doing mission in and through community. The content in this book has been refined, over and over in real situations with real people, and culminating in real results.

Second, the content of this book has passed through the crucible of real churches, with real people, with real challenges to seeing missional communities take off. As such, the book has a real practicality to it. Theory is great to get the ball rolling, but eventually you need simple material from the front lines that is easy to understand by all. This book gives us exactly that.

Third, it is based on principles, not trendy fads and buzz frenzy rantings and ravings. The reason this book is such a jewel is that it is rooted in principles of discipleship and leadership, yet these principles were forged within a missional framework. Leading missional communities requires a certain kind of leadership and strategy, and thanks to Mike and Alex, they have formulated tried and true principles that are applicable no matter what your context.

Now, here are several jewels from the book that lead me to push this book on all the people I know.

1. Right expectations for the right size of community. They highlight the fact that different sized groups are designed to operate and produce different things. A lot of frustration in leadership comes from expecting a group of 12-15 to function and deliver results that only a group of 2-3 people, or 20-50 people can deliver. Knowing the different sizes and knowing how they contribute in their own unique way to the over all purposes of spiritual formation and mission helps bring synergy to the already existing group sizes in your community. 

2.  Small enough to have a shared vision, but bug enough to do something about it. This was extremely helpful for a lot of our people to catch on to the wisdom behind missional communities. The genius of having a group of 20-50 people who are all focused on the same network or neighborhood lies in the capacity to have enough human and even financial resources to make an impact in a certain people group or location. Yet those same communities have a small enough size of people that allows for focused passions to collaborate around a common vision. The challenge in mobilizing a larger community for mission is that the different giftings within the APEST typologies will all gravitate towards a different dimension and focus. Each gifting will end up going on mission in different ways. This is great! We do not need to fight this, but embrace it. By choosing to gather a smaller group of people around a particular mission focus, you are creating space for people to pursue specific, focused visions for mission, yet the vehicle used to pursue those specific mission focuses is large enough to create momentum and significant impact. With a group the size of 20-50 people, you get the best of both worlds.

3. Multiplication for the long haul. If you have ever been a part of a small group multiplying, you know how taxing it can be on all who are involved. Even if the first round is smooth, after the second multiplication, most people begin to shut down emotionally and relationally, questioning the rationale for building close relationships that will eventually get cut short by another multiplication. Breen and Absalom bring some needed wisdom here to the idea of multiplication. There experience, and mine too to be honest, is that after the third multiplication, people no longer buy in to the process of "splitting" the group up for the sake of mission. However, if the group being multiplied consists of 20-50 people, thinning the herd takes less of a toll on the entire group, allows momentum to stay in tact, and creates options for sending a new group out into another mission focus without arbitrarily shuffling people around based on clicks, or geography. Multiplication ends up taking place around a missional focus, not just logistical needs of gathering.

4. The book is extremely pragmatic, yet theologically grounded in the concepts of discipleship and mission. It walks you through the essential phases of launching a missional community in your church setting. Anyone wanting to go deeper into what it actually looks like to develop and mobilize missional communities is going to want to read this book. It will be a real breath of fresh air with tons of inspiration from other people who have already become practitioners of this approach to being on mission in and through community. This is not another program. It is a principles based strategy that easily applies across the board.

5. Lastly, if after reading it you are invigorated and want more, there is more!!!! 3D Ministries hosts what they call Tasters through out the year where you can bring a small group of people and spend time with Mike Breen and Steve Cockram to hear more about how to make missional communities work in your own setting. The cool thing about the Tasters are... THEY'RE FREE!!!! Go here to learn more about this amazing opportunity.

My only critique of the book is that it assumes your church is already a size of at least 70 people. Our group is about 20 people, with varying levels of participation and partnership through out. They do have a section on how to make it from a group of 12 to a group of twenty that was very helpful, but because of our situation here in Clarksville, I wish they would have devoted a little more space to groups like ours who are starting from scratch. That being said, the principles in the book apply across the board whether big or small. So it is still a win/win for anyone reading the book. Besides, you cant say everything and address every situation in a book. Thanks Mike and Alex for delivering this strategical text to the Western context!