How have you seen success through missional communities?
About half of our baptisms happen in the context of a missional community. Our missional community leaders and participants are leading people to Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, inviting them into the communal life of discipleship, and teaching them what it looks like to make and multiply disciples. That is massively encouraging to me.
One of the fun things for me is just watching it play out in my personal life. We have neighbors who won't come to church, but they will actually study Scripture and have good, honest conversations with us.
Plus, I have conversations with a lot of people who think they can't live the life of Jesus with kids, but you can. We have four kids, all under the age of 7. Seeing the fruit of those kinds of conversations is so life-giving.
What challenges have you faced?
It's taken a long time to teach and model this for our church. We started the transition in earnest in 2007, and this is just now becoming the predominant model of community in our church. We thought early on that it would be done very quickly. It really took us seven years.
As we've engaged the multi-campus, multi-site world, that's been a unique challenge. As we've engaged different parts of Austin, our practices have changed. Our heartbeat has not. We've talked a lot about our practices being optional but the commands of the Bible are not. So whatever form we choose, we have to be pursuing those things.
Another piece that's been really hard is assimilation. Because we're a diverse church, because we're a missional church, the standard, homogenous, one-size-fits-all connection strategy just isn't effective for us. We've had to be very creative.
We've used several different strategies and all of them have their pros and cons. Last fall we used a modified host strategy. Before we did that, we were about 39 percent connected, and after we were 61 percent connected. The challenge there was that we formed groups that we had to disciple toward missional community. We're still in the process of helping many of those communities become missional communities.
The primary strategy we use for assimilation is our connections class. We take a demographic-specific group—newlywed, married, single women, single men—and do a class for six weeks. We do a little bit of teaching, a lot of discussion, and introduce the ideas of the gospel clearly and creatively. We introduce the necessity of Christian community and what that might look like given the specific life stage.
After six weeks, we launch them out into homes. We give them a template to follow. The first week, share your stories with each other. The second week, share a meal with each other. The third week, go out to a restaurant with one another. And the fourth week, meet with one of our coaches or staff to discuss your plans for moving forward. Usually out of the 50 to 80 people from the connections class, we'll have 3 to 6 different groups emerge that will pursue community.