It is not uncommon during a conversation about the Missional Communities that comprise ‘Unbounded Church’ networks to be asked what the membership is, i.e. how many ‘members’ do you have? That however, is a question that belongs to the mindset of traditional church thinking where membership can be measured by how many people come through the doors on Sundays on some sort of regular basis.
However, membership of a Missional Community is not an ‘in-out’ matter but graduated according to a person’s (member’s) degree of involvement in the group. A Missional Community can be likened to a set of ‘Concentric Circles’ at the centre of which is Jesus. The outer circles represent those who have a passing contact with the group, maybe staying for a short while and asking a question or two or engaging in some conversation, whereas the inner circles represent those who have over time progressed through the ‘circles’ moving (whether quickly or slowly) closer to Jesus as evidenced by growing spiritual maturity and increasing involvement in the group’s ministry and mission.
It is, or should be, obvious that an essential component of effective ‘Mission’ is to ‘Connect’ with those without Christ. Unless ‘Connection’ happens then it should be equally obvious that there will be no opportunity to communicate the gospel of Jesus, by whatever means may be appropriate.
To state this obvious truth should not be necessary, yet one of the reasons for the decline in church membership, and more importantly, the traditional church’s failure in gaining new converts is a chronic and worsening failure to ‘Connect’. This is largely due to persisting with 20th century-type one-off ‘event evangelism’, or other short duration missional activities which at best achieve ‘brief encounters’ not real ‘Connections’.
To make real ‘Connections’ requires that Christians spend significant and often protracted time, usually weeks or even months and longer, in the ‘Live, work and play’ environments where those they are seeking to reach regularly spend their time. This ‘investing time’, coupled with an attitude of seeking to demonstrate God’s love by service, is of the essence of the Unbounded Church strategy.
The ‘Concentric Circles’ nature of a Missional Community meeting in a public and observable location provides the opportunity for the ‘unchurched’ and ‘de-churched’ who regularly frequent that location to engage with the ‘Kingdom presence’ of the group to the degree to which, and in an environment which, they are comfortable. This further creates an opportunity to slowly ‘Gather’ them into the MC, progressing through the ‘Concentric Circles’ as they are ‘Discipled’ and grow in spiritual maturity.
Some recent examples may help illustrate.
‘Doreen’ is a staff member in Pub where a Missional Community (currently named ‘Pub Kingdom’) was established a few months ago. Due to her duties she frequently walked past the group as they did some bible study, with at least one hard-copy bible open on the table. This led initially to brief conversations, with her coming to ask what the group was doing. As the weeks have gone by, the conversations became longer as she stayed for a while and read the text being discussed. She has more recently started to take away the weekly brief study sheet (with text and questions) the group uses, ‘to discuss it with her husband!’ It may now perhaps be considered that she has entered the outer ‘Concentric Circles’ of ‘Membership’. This spiritual progression would not have started if the if the group had not ‘been there’!
Another regular patron of the same Pub, and decades long de-churched, middle-aged woman, is ‘Dee’ who has absolutely no intention of going to ‘church’. She now regularly stops and talks about what the group is doing and has expressed a wish to start studying the bible. She has also asked for prayer for both herself and her daughter with medical difficulties. Clearly not yet a member, but with potential to be, a potential that would again never be reached if the group had not ‘been there’!
At the other end on the spectrum is ‘Don’, whose journey started by ‘Connecting’ with ‘Coffee with Spirit’, an MC meeting in a Community Centre café. This is more fully described Here
‘Don’ was sitting one day having a coffee near where a ‘Coffee with Spirit’ MC was meeting. He overheard the biblical discussion and afterwards engaged in conversation with a member of the group. Two weeks or so later ‘Don’ became an ‘outer circle’ member by starting to attend the group. Since that date about a year ago, he has progressed though the ‘circles’, coming to know Christ himself, and now being an enthusiastic evangelist. Again, particularly as when he first encountered the group ‘Don’ was a professing atheist, all this would not have happened if the group had not ‘been there’!
No-matter how much leaders of traditional churches talk about ‘Connecting’ with the lost in the community, such ‘Connections’ do not take place without the regular, often over a long period of time, presence of Christians bearing witness to Christ in friendship, service and by taking the opportunity to answer questions and explain the Christian faith. ‘Event’ and short-term evangelistic activities rarely any longer achieve ‘Connections’, no-matter how much in the way of resources are expended in organising and running them.
A slogan that I keep saying to MC members and which gives the reason as to why the above described contacts actually happened, and why large numbers of similar events are happening on a regular basis, states a very simple fact-
‘Because we were there!’
And not in church buildings and lounge room Bible study groups.