The scope of discipleship involves both baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:18–20), which is to say:
conversion and counsel
multiplying and maturing
birthing and growing
distance and depth
Oftentimes, churches can feel like we have to choose between one or the other. Either we are a church that reaches people far from God, or we are a church that caters more to Christians seeking spiritual maturity. Either we are heavy on evangelism, or heavy on teaching.
We don’t think it has to be this way, though. The Great Commission requires that we do both. We are commissioned to go out and introduce people to the saving grace of Jesus, and we are commissioned to teach them, to learn as the church together, what it means to Iive under the lordship of Jesus.
And the question becomes: What is the most effective strategy for faithfulness to this full scope of discipleship?
We call them Community Groups — which we define as focused, shared ministry networks.
This a group of Christians who band together to make Jesus known and impact our neighborhoods and relational networks for his sake. Within these larger groups are Life Group (which we’ll discuss in Week 4).
There are three foundational convictions to our Community Groups.
1. Discipleship Is a Community Project
It is our conviction that we are always missionaries in community, not lone evangelists sent into the world. The commission to make disciples is given to the church as a whole, not individuals Christians in isolation or those who are exceptionally gifted. “At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual but us as members of the Christian community.” Therefore, we want to create a structure, a “trellis” if you will, that sees mission as a community project. We seek the good of the Cities together — in shared ministry.
2. Discipleship Needs a Focus
Foundational to discipleship is its inseparability from a locale, from a surrounding, from a specific context. Followers of Jesus are always the people of some here and some this — which requires that we truly live in that here and this. We believe God has sent us into these Cities not generally or abstractly, but here in real neighborhoods, and real workplaces and third spaces, among real people with real needs who need to know the real love and truth of Jesus.
3. Community Happens on Mission
If the gospel is central, as people live on mission, they discover community; as people live in true community, they seek mission.
The three convictions of the Christian mission — community-based and neighborhood-focused — are what make the focused, shared ministry networks. We join together to share gospel ministry that focuses on seeking the good of the neighborhoods and relational networks in which we live.
Four Pieces of a Community Group
Community groups are made up in four elements: 1) Everyday life; 2) Regular meetings; 3) Community events and initiatives; and 4) Service Projects.
The arena of focused, shared gospel ministry happens within the everyday life of the church as we are present in our respective neighborhoods. This is the normal context of Community Groups.
The Community Groups, made up of 5–20 individuals, will meet regularly, though the groups are not fundamentally a meeting. The vision of these meetings is continued encouragement, strategy, and accountability for to be light within their specific neighborhood and places of work. The goal is simply to be freshly grounded in the gospel of Jesus and propelled to live on mission with Jesus.
Community Events and Initiatives
The advance of the gospel happens in the everyday life of church, and the Community Groups meet regularly to pray, encourage, and strategize toward this end. An integral part of that strategy is to brainstorm events and initiatives within our specific neighborhoods that seek their good. These events and initiatives might be one-time parties or a six-week group study — whatever might bless our neighbors and friends.
Community Groups are intentional within our specific neighborhoods about meeting needs and improving our environment. We want to keep our eyes open to ways that we can serve and restore good in our neighborhoods. These projects are encouraged as often as the needs arise.
The ministry of our Community Groups happens within the “everyday life” of the church as we are present in our respective neighborhoods and relational networks.
But what actually is “everyday life”?
In hopes of clarity, we have identified five patterns of our normal routines that we see as the platform of gospel ministry. These patterns, or building blocks, are the habits of normal life that we intend to bring — in partnership with one another — under the lordship of Jesus, infusing them with the significance they deserve, and through them aiming to make Jesus known.
We intentionally interact with our neighbors by having regular conversations. Simply put, we talk to people. We meet strangers. We reach out and greet those we see in our neighborhoods and places of work. Even if just a plain “hello” or simple gesture, we are intentional not to ignore the people who live and work around us. We believe that the first step toward our Christian witness in this post-Christian context is to kindly acknowledge others and be a force of hospitality.
We are intentional about celebrating God’s good gifts together. People live to celebrate something. Whether birthdays or football games, gathering for a good cause is part of everyone’s life. We believe that these celebrations are wonderful opportunities to build relationships with neighbors and express hospitality. One of the simplest strategies of our Community Groups is to host events and initiatives that open up doors for gospel ministry.
We are intentional about blessing others through words, gifts, and actions.
God desires that all nations—all people—would be blessed through Jesus. As his church, we intentionally seek God’s direction for who he would have us tangibly bless through things as simple as word or as complex as full-fledged service projects.
We regularly eat meals with neighbors to hear their stories and make Jesus known. “Meals are a daily reminder of our common need for God and his faithfulness to provide both physically and spiritually,” explains Jeff Vanderstelt. Our hope is to bring gospel intentionality into this regular routine of life, building relationships with neighbors and introducing them to the church.
We take time to rest, play, create, and restore beauty in ways that reflect God to others. In a world of endless work, we believe that one of the most head-turning, soul-stirring moves we makes as a witness of God’s holiness is when we rest. Whether simply stopping our work, playing a game of wiffle ball, or going to the Y with the kids, we believe that resting from work becomes a regular dramatization of the heart of the gospel (Romans 4:5).
This section of “building blocks” is adapted from the “Six Rhythms” of Soma Communities.