What is a Community Group?
At Arkhouse Church, together with our Sunday gathering, forming mid-week Community Groups (CG), is how we seek to live out our gospel identity with gospel intentionality on gospel mission.
Inspired by the Soma Church ‘missional community’ model, we understand our ‘gospel identity’ as being a family of missionary servants, disciples seeking to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20; Rom 8:15-16; 1 Ptr 2:1-12).
A CG is a micro-gospel community (family) that supports and encourages its members to follow and grow in Jesus (disciples), to reach out with the gospel (missionaries) through the ‘everyday gospel rhythms’ (servants).
A CG is our main discipleship engine, driving the pistons of leadership development, caring community, evangelism, and pastoral care. A CG structure is nothing new; it’s simply organizing as a church to call people to active participation in the mission of Jesus, seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.
What happens in a Community Group?
A CG differs from a traditional bible study because a CG does more than just bible study! A CG meets weekly to share a meal together, a tangible way of being servants to one-another and living out shared family community.
After the meal, we meet for DNA - Discipleship, Nurture and Accountability. For ‘Discipleship’ we do sermon-based Bible studies, based on the previous Sunday’s sermon. For the rest of DNA, we meet in gender groups with male and female leaders for ‘Nurture’ (pastoral care and discipleship) and ‘Accountability’ which is about being accountable and praying for each person’s everyday mission and the collective mission of the group. In this way ‘living with gospel intentionality on gospel mission’ is kept on the agenda.
Leaders and Co-Leaders meet for monthly coaching sessions for reflection, prayer, assessment, accountability and training. In this way the CG remains connected to the church and focuses on both discipleship and leadership development.
How do CG’s do Evangelism?
CG’s seek to do evangelism and thereby obey the Great Commission by, firstly, encouraging each member to live with ‘gospel intentionality’ – being intentional about sharing their faith in Jesus. Teaching every believer to take on a ‘missionary’ identity, builds a culture encouraging everyone to live with gospel intentionality by actively praying for their friends and seeking opportunities to be honest and open about their faith.
Gospel intentionality is then lived out in both an everyday and collective mission. Everyday mission is reactive. It recognises the opportunities provided in each member’s sphere of influence, network, workplace or school/uni and it encourages each individual to pray for and reach their particular network.
Collective mission is proactive. It focuses on something within the local neighbourhood (eg. a playgroup, a school, a uni campus, a street, a particular disadvantaged people group) and it encourages the CG, as a group, to reach out to their collective mission.
As a church we then provide opportunities throughout the year for each CG to do Scattered Worship – where they’re active in their collective mission space. This may involve holding a party, attending a working-bee, running a games night, doing a prayer walk, whatever ways and means are available to them to connect within their collective mission.
Life-on-Life not Programs
As we seek together to do mission we live out our gospel identity in the everyday rhythms of life. These rhythms are: story-formed, listening, celebrating/grieving, eating, blessing/serving and working/resting. We’re seeking to train our members to live out the mission of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, rather than seeing evangelism as only happening in a course, program or event run by ministry experts.
To do this we pay close attention to seasons and patterns in the culture of the context in which we’re located. We then seek to join in the rhythm of life of the local community. We ask the ‘missiological questions’ of what should we reject, redeem or receive? In these ways we seek to bring gospel distinctiveness and live as salt and light, to develop pathways for gospel engagement and conversation. We then actively train our members in how to have gospel conversations, how to talk about Jesus and how to share the gospel in life-on-life relationships and situations.
But Does it Work?
After 5 years we’ve found that CG’s are a very effective model for making disciples, growing community and raising leaders. Our spiritual inertia and apathy to the lost, together with the joy and ease of fellowship with other believers, means it’s always an effort to keep a focus on evangelism.
We’ve found that a collective mission is more effective when most of the group live, play and work in the same neighborhood they’re trying to reach, but even then, it takes years and years to build relationships. We’ve also found that CG’s are more effective when they identify those with the gift of evangelism and focus their prayer and mission activity around those people.
Regardless of which structure or philosophy of ministry you adopt, every church needs to think carefully about its evangelism strategy. The church in the West is in decline and we live in a growing antagonistic, post-Christian culture. If we don’t seek creative and new ways to connect to unbelievers, the church will continue to be seen as irrelevant and anachronistic. Community Group’s, having both an internal and external focus, training believers to live out gospel identity with gospel intentionality on gospel mission, are an effective structure for any church to reach out to it’s surrounding community.
Dan Saunders is the Senior Pastor of Arkhouse Church in St Kilda in inner Melbourne.