Praying your community will be sustainable? You may be focusing on the wrong thing. Discover how reproduction is the key to endurance.
1. Four reasons to reproduce your community
They are based on four shifts:
a) A shift from solid to fluid society
The past saw fewer changes than today. Now, change is everywhere and the world is in constant flux.
In this more fluid world, we must expect new Christian communities often to be fluid too.
Changes in personal circumstances may force some key people to leave a new community. Or the community may run out of steam because key members start a family, peak in their careers, or care for elderly relatives.
The community comes to the end of its natural life.
However, if your community started a new one, it would live on in the life of its offspring. It would endure despite life’s ebbs and flows.
b) A shift from durability to generativity
In this fluid world, sustainability need not equal a long-lasting community. Such a view was appropriate when life was more stable. But our fluid society requires that we re-imagine sustainability.
Our prime goal should be not to start a sustainable community, but a fruitful one (John 15.1–8). Fruitfulness will include birthing further communities. Watch (again) the animation!
Despite its short life, the Jerusalem church was highly fruitful. It birthed – generated – countless other Christian communities.
A lesson for us?
c) A shift from making disciples in church to making them in life
Traditionally we have relied on the church to make disciples – on worship, courses, and small groups.
These are great for drawing you into God’s story and learning the principles of Christian behaviour.
But often they are less good at relating faith to everyday life.
You might think: “How does ‘turn the other cheek’ apply to my bullying boss? If only I could discuss this with another Christian who understood the situation.”
That’s why finding a Christian friend and discovering how to love people round you is so important. It creates opportunities to learn together what following Jesus means in that context.
Starting a new Christian community in life speeds growth in spiritual maturity. This is because you must:
- Trust God
- Find practical ways to love other people
- Contribute to a Christian team
- Find natural, loving, and relevant ways to share the good news
- Connect faith to everyday experience.
How better to mature spiritually than to be on mission, in your everyday life, with other Christians!
So encourage new believers to find a friend, start a new Christian community, and grow spiritually.
d) A shift from growing the congregation to multiplying congregations
Often communities expand, then plateau. Starting another community can offset this leveling off.
A woman formed a Christian community in her front room with people from a poor neighborhood. Space became tight. So they moved to a nearby school.
Big mistake! The larger gathering made the original members feel less involved and put them off leading. They drifted away.
Might multiplying small groups within the neighborhood have been a better approach?
2. Three steps
a) Raise expectations
Expectations are the seed of new life. So, from the beginning, pray that your community will reproduce. Make this a long-term goal. And talk about it!
Don’t say to yourself and others, “I feel called to start a new Christian community.” Say, “I feel called to start a network of new communities.”
Language shapes thought. So use the right language. This will shape your expectations. And your expectations will shape everyone else’s.
When people in your community ask about faith, explain that starting a small Christian community can be part of a 21st century Christian life. If they are intrigued, show them some of Overview.
Encourage inquirers to follow Jesus with the possibility of starting a Christian community in mind.
b) Find an apprentice
From an early stage, look for one or two people who could start the next community. They may be in your core Christian group or among those coming to faith.
Keep praying for them. Invest time in them. Nurture their faith. When they are ready, share your vision of a network of Christian communities. Use godsend with them, starting with the Overview.
In particular, let them take you into their worlds. Ask questions to stimulate their thinking. Use the Guide in 7. Start as a prompt.
Challenge others in the community. There may be more potential apprentices than you realise.
c) Keep things simple
Introduce people to Jesus by using approaches they can easily copy. For example:
- Show DVDs they can share with their friends and contacts.
- Use Bible study methods they can easily adapt – see 12. Explore faith/Guide.
- Find ways of praying that they can share with others.
This is why you have to be intentional. If you’re praying your community will reproduce, embrace reproducible practices that answer your prayers!
3. Two examples
See the videos below.
Parents and carers near Cambridge came to faith through Thirst, a discussion group among people who were dropping off their children at school.
They were so enthusiastic they wanted to invite their friends and children. But their friends were at work and their children at school.
So they started Thirst Too on Saturday afternoons – an all-age community for the people they knew.
Sorted began among 11 to 14-year-olds. As the group got older they asked their leaders, “Why don’t we do with the next generation what you did with us?” And they did!
4. One challenge
Remember Abraham? God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15.5). But he hadn’t even got one child! Imagine how he felt.
Maybe the idea of reproducing makes you feel like that. “How can I think about multiplying my community when I haven’t even begun?”
Be like Abraham. Trust God.
And try this thought experiment.
Imagine a cafe-based community holds “spirituality sessions” for the cafe’s customers. Several come to faith. New believers meet with the Christian core for Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship. Their faith deepens. But the community is small. A couple of the founders move away. Energy evaporates. The community dies.
Here’s another possibility.
Though small, the community flourishes by reproducing.
- Perhaps the founder starts a further community, while staying in touch with the original one.
- Or the community sends out a small team to start another community in the same context.
- Or someone just beginning to explore Jesus teams up with another Christian to start a different-looking community in another context – and then someone else does the same, and so on.
The original community comes to the end of its natural life, but it lives on through several offspring.
Which will be your future?
Sue gives advice on how one new community can start another, based on her experiences at Thirst.
Andy explains how Sorted illustrates the shift from durability to generativity.
Paul describes how the Kahaila community has found apprentices and helped them grow new communities.
Ask one or more people to read in advance “Background to and reflection on Acts 11.19–23”.
Read Acts 11.19–23. (You may have read these verses as part of the Bible study in 15. Church? where the focus was on “blended” church. Here the focus is on “doing it again”.)
Before discussing the passage, ask the person(s) who read the “Background” to summarize what they learnt from it.
- Allow time for questions and discussion
- Does reproduction mean reproducing similar or different-looking communities?
Re-read Acts 11.19–23. Ask:
- What is each of us getting out of the passage?
- What are the lessons for our community?
- What should we do next?
Choose one or more of the following:
- If you are at an early stage in starting a new community, consider how you can keep things simple so that they can be easily used and adapted by those coming to faith.
- How will your community be organized so that new Christians think they can do something similar?
- What will you do to invite people to faith in a way that new Christians can easily copy?
- How will you make prayer, study, and worship easy for new Christians to share with other people they know?
- Review the prayer life of your core team and/or your community.
- What are the most common topics of prayer?
- How often does starting further communities feature?
- What would have to happen for this to be a more frequent topic?
- In your community, who might be in a position to help start another Christian community?
- What are they saying and doing that encourages you to reach this conclusion?
- What are you already doing to encourage, equip, and support them?
- What else might you do?
- Imagine during the night a miracle happened and your new community began to give birth to further communities.
- If 10 represents the day after the miracle and 1 is furthest away from the miracle that you could be, at what number would your community be now?
- If your community was to move 1 point up the scale, what would it be doing differently?
- What steps would you have to take to move to this next point?