What is the basic organizing factor of your church? What is the framework on which you build your identity and function as a church?
If you examined everything you do as a church—every event, program, ministry, and activity—what would those things point to as your “main thing?”
The most typical framework of traditional churches is the Sunday gathering.
Everything the church does, communicates, and promotes inevitably points back to the Sunday gathering, the big weekly event. The gathering is the primary organizing structure of these churches.
The planning and preparation each week looks toward the gathering. Then we pour our energy into the gathering. Next, we review how the gathering went. And then we launch into planning and prep for the next gathering.
In churches organized in this way, evangelism is expressed as encouraging members to invite others to the Sunday gathering. Discipleship is a formal exercise in a classroom setting, typically at the building. Anything done outside the building in the community still has the goal of getting people to the gathering on Sunday.
Some unfortunate side effects of relying on the gathering as your primary organizing structure are…
- Attendance becomes a metric of faith. Members begin to judge one another’s relationship with God based on their attendance at the gathering or participation in every event.
- It reinforces a disconnect between life at church and life everywhere else. If believers depend on the Sunday gathering as their primary means of spiritual sustenance, they are more likely to compartmentalize their lives into what happens on Sunday and what happens every other day of the week. They generally don’t make the connection of their faith in God with the experiences of everyday life, and they often fail to see the relevance of the gospel to the everyday.
- It conditions people to a centralized, building-centered understanding of church. This is one of the cultural misconceptions that often manifests itself in the language we use. We go to church. We will see our friends at church. Our language betrays the notion that we see church as an event at a location.
With that being said, is there a more biblically appropriate framework around which we can structure a church?
The organizational framework that I would encourage you to consider is missional communities.
A missional community is a group of people who radically reorient their lives around the gospel and live as a family sent on mission together in the everyday.
The missional community is smaller than the gathering, usually between six to twenty-five people. If it helps you, think of a missional community as a small group (although I personally cringe at using that term to describe an MC, because they are not the same at all).
In the missional approach to church, MC’s are the primary organizational structure of the church. MC’s are how disciples are organized for the purposes of mission, discipleship, and shepherding. Those functions of the church are mainly carried out in the context of the MC’s. Although, let me hasten to add, those functions are still important in the gathering. It’s simply that we don’t rely only or even mostly on the gathering for those functions to be accomplished.
MC’s reverse the negative side effects that organizing around the Sunday gathering can cause.
- Living on mission is the metric of faith. MC’s naturally foster an environment of accountability concerning living a gospel-centered life. Failing to be on mission indicates unbelief, and other MC members faithfully “gospelize” one another to repentance and missional living.
- MC’s establish a deep connection between life with church and life everywhere else. Members are taught to see all of life as mission, and to look for gospel opportunities and opportunities for worship in the everyday. The sacred/secular is a misleading distinction. For the missional believer, all of life is holy and sacred, and there is no detail of life that is untouched by the lordship of Jesus.
- MC’s condition people to a decentralized church structure, and to a view that ministry and mission are a way of living, not an activity you add to your schedule, or an event you attend.
If a church is organized around their missional communities, then their weekly gathering will be focused on celebration, worship, equipping, encouragement, and fellowship. Evangelism, discipleship, and shepherding happen in the context of the MC.
Using missional communities as the primary organizational structure of the church does not take the place of the weekly gathering. Rather, MC’s enhance the significance of gathering regularly as a body.