A review of Mike Breen and Alex Absalom, Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide, 3DM, 2010.
Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom of 3 Dimension Ministries is a book on both how to transition to missional communities and how to run a missional community. In common with most missional church material, the theology is largely based on the pattern of the New Testament rather than systematic or biblical theology which makes it somewhat thin. But then the book does not set out to be a theology of missional community. It is intended as a how-to book and styled as a manual with two columns per page plus suggestion boxes, lists, case studies and space for notes.
At times it is quite prescriptive. ‘We strongly encourage you to follow this guide as closely as is appropriate for your church situation,’ they say at one point (80). So, for example, they provide a ‘service outline’ for a launch meeting (107) and a five stage process for evangelising individuals (110). At other times it lists different ideas in a way that makes concepts concrete without prescribing specific solutions.
Along the way there’s lots of helpful material, especially on identifying a common missional project for a missional community. I also like the idea of encouraging missional communities to set a sustainable pace by having a one-month period each year when it scales down it activities for a period of rest.
Launching Missional Communities advocates a four-tier model of church life. This is because it relies heavily on the sociological analysis of Edward Hall who divides space into public space, social space, personal space and intimate space. The model is this:
— public space = celebration (over 100 people)
— social space = missional community or cluster (20-50 people)
— personal space = small group or cell (3-12 people)
— intimate space = accountability partners (1-2 people)
A fifth group overlays this framework: what they call a ‘huddle’. A huddle is a group of four to twelve leaders and potential leaders who meet at least every other week for discipleship and accountability with a focus on two questions: ‘What is God saying to me?’ and ‘How will I respond?’
This may be a great model in specific contexts though I’m not persuaded it reflects the most common New Testament pattern of a city-wide entity made up of household congregations. It also creates large missional communities – too large, for example, to fit into most UK homes. But their concern that small groups (less than twelve) often struggle to be missional because they default to introspective intimacy is an important point.
The main area where I would want to supplement the book is this. It describes groups of people with a common mission. But it does not take this to the next level to see both community and mission as our identity. The result is that there is still a significant emphasis on meetings, and community and mission are not pushed down into everyday life as much as they could be. Nor do we discover how mission can be done not only by community but through community. But this is not to fault the actual content of the book, much of which is very useful.
I must confess the extravagant claims grated with me – you couldn’t call it a humble book! The authors claim to have invented missional communities when they were at St Thomas’ Church in Sheffield which may come as a surprise to you if you’ve being doing missional communities for many years without knowing this, even more so if you’ve been based in the same city all that time! Surely one of the features of a genuine move of God’s Spirit is that it starts spontaneously in various places in unrelated ways.