It is easy to get in to the numbers game, not just the counting…ignoring them to. You cannot stand at the extremes, numbers do matter but we have to be careful what the narrative behind them is.
Last week we began our new missional community and, with all faith, said that even if nobody outside of family turned up, we would be happy. This soon changed as we had a number of people who committed to attend – 14 in all and my hopes had been raised, space would be a challenge and we were going to have an incredible start. On the day, we had 9 in total – but not from the group that had committed – just 3 from there. It was a fabulous start and I was (initially at least) disappointed.
Numbers are a guide, they cannot and should not be ignored. However, we must be careful to listen to the narrative behind the numbers and look at the long term success or failure. Jesus was deserted and by the time of his crucifixion was completely alone…..years later, the world was changed and numbers are beyond counting now. We need to track our numbers and learn what the figures say but the spreadsheet should not determine direction of travel or key decisions, for this we need the story.
There were good reasons why a number of folk did not turn up for our first meeting, we will be logging the numbers in the next few months and see the trends. However, they will not prevent us sticking to the calling at hand. We will see a community of believers transforming this area because God is at work and his faithful friends are serving. Some of these things can be counted, some cannot.
Numbers matter but numbers alone are a noose around our neck. They are a part of the story, not the whole. Numbers matter, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
This is a challenging quote – what do you think?
“As evangelicals we have tended to see the church and its public ministry of Word, sacrament, and oversight of spiritual and material needs of the body as “maintenance” for those who were evangelized once upon a time. They’re already in. But evangelism and mission have to do with going outside the church and its ministry to say and do something else. The cleavage between church and mission is often stated explicitly in evangelistic appeals: “I’m calling you to believe in Jesus, not to join a church.” But what does it mean to make disciples—what does that really look like on the ground? Furthermore, how do we deal with the challenges of religious pluralism and the rising sentiment in evangelical circles that salvation does not require explicit faith in Christ?” Michael Horton
Gathering a prayer team is critical for us as we begin the new community. There are those that pray on the ground in a local setting and those that are more distant. Our target is 100 people praying from outside the locality and this has been surprisingly simple to set up, the age of social media is your friend in this.
We have spread the net wide and have chosen a ‘zero policing’ policy, so I will not be checking up on who is following through on their commitment but have deliberately kept the bar low – pray intentionally at least once a month and I will commit to pray for them too, as well as informing them regularly. So the plan is as follows;
- 100 people in the wide net – these folk are gathered from friendships, contacts and social media. They commit to pray intentionally once a month and in return they receive information to fuel their prayer and I have committed to pray for them too. They receive information via email or a private Facebook group, maximum twice a month.
- 12 people in the boat – these 12 are close friends where I can share more deeply in the issues for prayer. These folk will be those that have shared a much deeper interest and are known to be warriors in prayer. This takes a while longer to set up and is still a work in progress, but vital.
- 3 Officers in charge – 3 prayer commandoes who meet to share guts and all, for prayer and encouragement.
It is impossible to know who wants to join prayer lists for ‘nosey faith encouragement’ but if people make a level of commitment, you must trust them. The close at hand people have to be trusted friends because you are sharing more personally. This is only right.
I have been blessed with a prayer team and whilst still in formation, we have seen many good answers to prayer and have known our arm is strengthened in ministry. We value our prayer support team, they are incredible.
In my previous post on starting a missional community from scratch the first point was to “adopt the posture of a learner” but what does this mean? How do we do this?
Adopting the posture of a learner demands patience, time, listening, observation and most of all, an attitude of continuous learning. When you are in a new environment and do not know people, where do you begin? How do you progress?
- Observe: where do people gravitate to? Watch were people go shopping, where they gather to relax, which community events are on, what is happening within the community. This will teach something of the lifestyle of the people around you.
- Listen: As you open up conversations, listen to what people are saying and why they are saying those things. This is critical in listening and most often forgotten. As you listen, assume that you know nothing, put aside your own viewpoints, your own learning. The people whom you are listening to are the professors and you are the child in kindergarten – this may help you to listen well.
- Patience and Time: Do not rush your listening, you will never have all the answers and if you jump to the wrong conclusions you will find yourself less effective. Time is the greatest gift that you give to your community.
- Attitude of Continuous Learning: There is not a time when you know it all, the community constantly changes (especially if it is living!) and the answers from a previous season do not always translate to the latest season. We are all aware of people who have stopped learning and growing, their stagnation smells horrific, don’t become that person but be willing to learn afresh, change your ways and act accordingly.
The posture of a learner keeps you humble and prevents you from “lording it over others” – missional communities should be a place where we are constantly in change, growing, developing and loving. Adopt the position of a learner and see what happens…..you may be glad you did.
“How To Pioneer” – David Male – A good practical handbook for anyone who wants to engage missional in their community. An excellent resource that is practical, sensible and evidence that anyone can engage in pioneering ministry. 10/10
“Neighborhood Mapping” – John Fuder – A helpful book with practical wisdom for getting under the skin of your community in order to serve as a missionary church. You think you know your community but maybe you need to think again and put a strategy in place for getting to know it better. This book is gold dust for practical thinkers. 9/10
“Church Planting Thresholds” – Clint Clifton – A manual for church planters from a reformed theological perspective. It is very detailed and full of practical wisdom, biblically loaded. It is not for everyone but useful for church leaders who are looking to plant a new church and recruit a team. 6/10
You know that you want you community to be a place where Jesus is seen and accepted but how do you begin with a missional community. Most communities start with a team but there are occasions when you have nobody…..what then?
1)Adopt the posture of a learner – it can be easy to make assumptions and to think that you know a community well. However, demographic studies, stats, maps and more stats are no replacement for legwork in the community and getting under the skin of the place. You need to be ready to learn more, listen more, observe continually and accept things may be different to what you perceive. Be ready to learn, be willing to learn and spend a great deal of time listening. Adopt a learning attitude.
2)Seek someone who will inform you – who is the person of peace, someone who imbibes the community, who will share their knowledge and is a friend. They do not necessarily hold your beliefs of faith but they are willing to share with you. Their willingness usual strengthens when you adopt the posture of a learner and not that of teacher.
3) Build relationships – as you talk with people, seek them out again, develop friendships, go deeper and let this rootedness in the community help you to flourish. Not all relationships will be tight, see it more of a spiders web with a central strength and a growing network beyond the fringes. Relationships are critical.
These first three steps are very practical and the holy people reading will ask, ‘what about prayer?’ Prayer is the most necessary component and I have assumed it will underpin, surround and inhabit everything. Without prayer you have nothing and the steps above only help begin a social club, not a missional community. Prayer is the blood running through our veins….do not abandon it.
All the above takes time….it is worth it!
Reading Dirty Glory from Pete Greig has been both a real challenge and encouragement. This afternoon, the opportunity to walk around Tabernacle Street, Wesley’s House and through to Aldersgate Street came my way. It was great to think and pray….there were no great revelations, no great insights, just gritty prayer and a fresh desire to see the City, Nation and World transformed. Come Lord Jesus!