Jeff Christopherson on Small Groups, Missional Communities, & Micro-Churches

Small churches seem to come in two basic forms: deliberate and symptomatic. Some church’s diminutive size is actually a symptom of internal and/or external factors hampering its obedience to disciple-making. Like a bonsai tree [1], many unnatural ecclesial forces are often inflicted on a local body in order to stunt its missionary effectiveness and perpetuate its reproductive sterility and miniaturization. In the bonsai case of smallness, a paltry missional footprint is not to be celebrated but serve as a spiritual warning indicator that its rightful first-love might have long faded into an ecclesiastical ritual.

But some churches are small as a deliberate decision toward the commission of disciple-making. To these churches, smallness becomes a means to holistic engagement and feasible reproducibility. Unlike bonsai churches, these leaders choose smallness as a way to expand the church’s missional footprint.

“Our ecclesiology should flow out of mission, not the other way around. Mission is the mother of adaptive ecclesiology; meaning if we start with engaging in God’s mission, there should be lots of wild and wonderful expressions of church. The church does what it is and then organizes what it does,”says Brad Brisco.[2]This idea of adaptive ecclesiology has been fostering the development of so-called micro-churches around the world, and now it has found a home in North America.

Not all groups are created equal

It might help to envision micro-churches on a scale of development moving from normative small groups to missional communities and finally micro-churches. The typical small group provides a means of connection and care for those already involved in the church’s ministry. These groups “make a large church smaller” and, when working well, provide the context for life-on-life discipleship, authentic care, and vulnerable accountability.

Missional communities, on the other hand, ratchet things up in the area of disciple-making. They include the values of conventional small groups, but with an added focus on pursuing God’s mission in community. Modeled after Jesus’ earthly ministry, the design of missional communities is to intentionally press a community of disciples into active obedience to the commands of Christ, particularly in the area of mission and evangelism, and use this activity as a training ground for holistic discipleship. Often the focus of missional communities is joint engagement around a particular neighborhood or network in order to incarnate the gospel in that place.

Micro-churches press this idea one step further. In the typical missional community, the group functions as a sub-set of a larger church. In some cases, the entire church adopts a more missional approach to group formation. Other times, a singular missional community may emerge in a church culture where inward-facing small groups are more the norm. Either way, these groups exist as a part of the greater church.

Not so with micro-churches. These groups, with the same outward orientation as missional communities, actually constitute a church in and of themselves, most often existing at about the size of a large, extended family (25-40 people). These churches focus on the holistic ministry of the church: worship of God, personal spiritual formation, and mission to the world. These practices often happen in homes, businesses or public spaces, and may or may not take the standard form of worship services on a set day and time.

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Source: Christianity Today