Gospel Communities

When you see a well organized garden you immediately know several things have contributed to its fruitfulness: careful planning, intentional preparation, well timed planting and continual care.

“But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:20

What kind of fruit is our discipleship and church work producing? Are our Small Groups, Bible Studies and classes fruitful gardens of life transformation and frequent conversion growth? No doubt there is some fruit from our efforts, but often we settle for creating generally positive environments without a well designed plan to support productive evangelism and discipleship.

Think, for example, of your approach to reaching your immediate neighbors. Most of us are like this tilled up yard – having done some initial preparation of the relationships, being friendly and helpful, but we haven’t planted many gospel seeds in real spiritual conversations and we don’t have any regular structures in place (like a weekly evangelistic Bible study) to move those conversations forward.

In my experience that’s how many churches approach discipleship in general: creating positive environments in the Sunday service, Sunday School and small groups – but lacking a well designed plan to make disciples who make disciples. We encourage our people to reach out to their friends and neighbors with the good news of Jesus, but we don’t show them how to build the ongoing relational “gardening” structures to let spiritual conversations develop over time.

For years I have urged and encouraged people to share the gospel wherever they are – looking for those God moments and trying to create opportunities in daily life to pray with people and invite them to church. This is REACTIVE Evangelism – responding to the encounters and opportunities that come up in the normal course of life: at a restaurant, grocery story, gas station, workplace or gym. This is important work, well worth the effort in training people to see where God is working and join Him, using approaches and resources like God Space (Pollock).

But I’m convinced we need to help believers develop structures and patterns for PROACTIVE Evangelism in what we are calling Gospel Communities (often called Missional Communities or Microchurches). These are focused, intentional, ongoing initiatives to reach a single group of people or place, such as a small neighborhood or part of a city block.

Check out this 30 minute introduction to Gospel Communities from Jeff Vanderstelt (or listen to the podcast here). Jeff lists nine key elements to forming a missional community I summarize in seven:

First, grab one or two Christian friends. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Gather a leadership team that includes a catalytic starter (apostle), a relational gatherer (evangelist), a practical fixer (prophet), a pastoral caregiver (shepherd) and a thoughtful instructor (teacher). Some of these influencing styles may be embodied in one person or couple, but the point is to gather a team and not try to go it alone.

Second, be sure to build on a Gospel Foundation. The driving force and central motivation must be the gospel and the glory of Jesus, rather than letting the mission itself or the abilities of the leaders take center stage. From start to finish Gospel Communities must be about saturating a place or people group with the good news of Jesus’ love and grace.

Third, there must be a well defined mission. This is where the proactive focus on a single place or people group becomes the guiding principle. It could be a dozen or so homes near yours, or the office where you work, or your child’s class in school or their sports team. Alternatively there might be a specific cause or problem the team comes together to address: homeless men, foster children, single mothers, addicts in recovery etc. Watch for a group of people the Lord puts on your heart, a passion God has given you for a cause and for God’s providential leading in the doors he opens and the connections he makes for you.

Fourth, get to work connecting and serving. Prayerfully discern with your team the ways you can adjust your lives to get to know the people you want to reach. Where do you they spend time? What are they interested in? What are the obstacles they face to responding to the gospel? What might become open doors for the gospel? In other words, start building the garden boxes, preparing the soil and planting the seeds for the kingdom impact you want to see.

Fifth, it’s time to practice your Gospel Fluency. Help your people become proficient in sharing their story with Jesus as the hero. Clearly express one or two problems you had before Jesus, the way you committed your life to Jesus and how He has changed your life, addressing those problems. Then move from your story into God’s story. Practice speaking about the work of God from creation to fall, redemption and restoration. Grow in declaring the truth of God’s love for people while at the same time displaying God’s love for people in practical forms of service.

Six, be sure to enlist a coach with some experience in disciplemaking and living on mission.

And seven, plan to multiply from the beginning. Our mission is to multiply disciplemakers and as we reproduce leaders, the natural result should be the multiplication of gospel communities.

For more on launching a new gospel community check out these additional episodes from the Saturate Podcast:

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