We have recently decided together to change the structure of the Edge Network (the network of church plants within The Crowded House which I lead).
We’ve decided to move to a model of ‘gatherings’ of ‘gospel communities’. We’re re-styling the current congregations and teams as ‘gospel communities’ and these will meet together in two gatherings. ‘Church’ is both the gospel communities and gathering. The gospel community is our primary identity, our place of belonging. So the gathering is a gathering of gospel communities (not a church with gospel communities) though the gathering will offer shared oversight and co-operation between gospel communities.
The gospel communities are being encouraged to see themselves as a community doing mission together. They’re being encouraged to be flexible and adapt to the people they are trying to reach. When they meet they will normally review (or preview) the Bible teaching from the gathering with a focus on application.
The gathering will meet every fortnight. This is partly to reinforce the idea that the larger gathering is not the event during which church happens. Instead church exists in the shared life of the gospel communities.
At present both the gospel communities and the gatherings will take place in homes, but as the gatherings grows we may look for other venues. The gospel communities also have a mandate to consider meeting in the locations where unbelievers hang out (cafes, sports clubs and so on).
The gathering will be led by people we have recognised as ‘leaders’ (or ‘elders’). The gospel communities will have their own leaders who may or may not be gathering leaders.
Our vision for the future is:
— to establish new gospel communities, and
— to establish new gatherings (by dividing into two gatherings of gospel communities).
Here are some of the advantages of this new approach as we see them …
This model combines the best of a household model with the best of a gathering of missional communities model (as practised by Providence in Dallas, Soma in Tacoma, Kaleo in San Diego and The Crowded House Sharrowvale congregation in Sheffield).
This model may help us realise our vision of putting people into leadership sooner and planting around new believers by creating a more integrated, supportive structure.
This model may enable us to combine a strongly contextual approach to mission with a strong emphasis on the transcultural and reconciling nature of the gospel.
This model ensures people experience good quality Bible teaching and corporate worship while also experiencing good quality Christian community with life-on-life, day-to-day discipleship and partnership in mission.
This model consolidates resources. Bible teaching gifts and preparation time would be shared across the congregations, freeing people up for mission. Gospel communities could focus on mission and discipleship.
This model allows people to decide which is the most suitable first point of contact for an individual they are reaching.