Do Missional Communities Start With Mission or Community?

Here’s a common question we get about missional communities: What comes first? Mission or community?

In other words, if you want to start a community that lives on mission together, do you start with a vision for mission and gather a community around it? Or do you gather a community and discern a mission vision together?

No “right” answer

There’s not really a single “right” answer to this question. One important thing to remember is that the best missional communities aren’t programs run by influential people with charismatic personalities. Rather, missional communities are where you equip, empower and release leaders to lead and discern mission.

So if we seek to answer the question with one “right answer” we end up absolutizing the way God must work in every situation. Instead, it’s better to train people to discern the way God actually is working in their actual situation, so they can participate in the work God is already doing!

Starting with community

One missional community we were part of for awhile was composed of a group of people that have an affinity for each other and live in the same neighborhood. So we tend to gather as a community whether we have mission or not.

The important thing for this group is to cast vision for being missional disciples and discerning mission in their context. (We have training that equips leaders to do this exact thing.) By doing this, we’re seeking to discern how God is at work and how we organize around his work.

Another missional community we were part of was in much the same position. They were focused on some neighbors, plus a few folks from church (some of whom happen to be neighbors as well). They started by just simply enjoying getting together.

The next phase of that group needed to be defining the mission a little bit more closely. Discerning where God is at work and then gathering around that grace.

Mission vision is a magnet

The vision of a missional community often functions as a magnet to draw people towards you or repel people from you. And both are okay because ultimately that vision is a filter for people of peace.

Remember the key is that missional communities are led by people who know how to discern where God is at work and how to gather around that grace with faith. It’s less of a question of: “Are we starting it the right way?” and more “Are the right people here?”

If we have the right leader and people (people who can discern), they can start and lead on mission. They can adapt and calibrate as the missional situation changes. As crisis happens, as needs present themselves, they will be able to adapt and overcome because they have the character and competencies of a leader who knows how to navigate those kinds of things.

Check out the video below if you’d like to hear Ben and Matt talk about this topic:

Leave a comment below and join the conversation!

P.S. Did you know we do in-depth training for the kind of leadership Ben and Matt talked about in this video? Click here to check it out.

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12 Comments

  1. Luke on July 17, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Great conversation Matt and Ben!



  2. Wanda Kay Critser on July 18, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    As I view yours and others missional community promotion, it seems that you are mostly middle class who can provide the fellowship meals and similar age group on the whole who have resources. I’m not so sure that where I live this is possible, especially if I start with my neighborhood. I praise God that you are doing something and that there is hope the tide of exodus from the organized churches will revert and find new health from the influence that these missional groups can have if they do not remain apart but become also a part of the whole movement of God. This approach is much like the Acts church; yet over time they got so big they had to organize themselves, especially if they wanted to stay together. Yet we know that God scattered them to multiply even more.



  3. Bonita Bird on July 18, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Can the community be the mission of the community?
    When the needs in the community are high, whether they be financial, social, or relational, it seems that just living in community is a mission in an of itself.



  4. Ben Sternke on July 18, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Sure! That’s all part of the discernment, Bonita. BUT I would also say that a big part of becoming a real community is for everyone to learn to both give AND receive. “Needy” people who are used to receiving must learn to give, and “strong” people who are used to giving must learn to receive. It’s fine to start where people are at, but the discipleship trajectory I’d be looking for would be along the lines of everyone learning to give and receive, both within the community and outside the community. Mutuality is a key element in a healthy missional community. So eventually a community must turn outward in some way or it will become insular and fold in on itself.



  5. Ben Sternke on July 18, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    Not sure if I’m reading your comment correctly, Wanda, but we don’t “provide” meals for folks who are coming over, etc. Mutuality is a huge value for us, and so everything we do as a community is community-funded. So if we’re going to have a meal, we all bring some food to share. Many times for our Friday night missional community, we encourage folks to just bring their leftovers! The feel is “Just bring what you were going to eat anyway, and let’s eat together.”



  6. Ben Sternke on July 18, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Thanks Luke!



  7. Michael Krause on July 21, 2017 at 8:28 am

    We tend to begin on the community side of this polarity. We’ve tried to root ourselves in a “Body of Christ” theology, which begins by discerning the body and then asks what Christ wants to do with this particular body. If you have a Michael Phelps body, you should probably swim with it, rather than run. If you have a Usain Bolt body, I’d suggest that you focus on running instead of swimming.

    So, the question for us is: who are we? What kind of body has Christ assembled? What does that tell us about what kind of mission he wants us on?



  8. Werner on July 21, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Great video Ben.Nice to see you and Matt coming life on my pc.God bless.



  9. Ben Sternke on July 21, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    That’s a great way to think about it, Michael!



  10. Ben Sternke on July 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Glad it was helpful!



  11. Gary Liederbach on February 26, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    We use prayer walking a neighborhood to discern both mission and community. We prayer walk a neighborhood praying over and looking for the person of peace in that neighborhood, wether an individual person or business, to train to lead the missional community in the neighborhood. In prayer walking, we also pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the needs of the neighborhood, to align our vision and mission to actual needs of that neighborhood. What we also do is seek out what other ministries/ outreaches are already missionally present and working in that neighborhood, and the potential for partnering our new community with them. No need to start something from scratch if God is already started meeting the needs of that community.



  12. Ben Sternke on February 26, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    All good practices, Gary! Great to hear what you’re up to.



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