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Church Planting with Missional Communities

The 3DM Content Team is hard at work on final edits of our new Missional Community book (coming out this Fall!!).

One of the items this new book will have is an addendum for pastors in established churches as well as for church planters who are looking to use Missional Communities to plant a church.

In today’s post, here is an excerpt from the church planter section on how to use MC’s to plant a church.




As the world we live in becomes an increasingly post-Christian, this will ultimately shape the way we plant churches. Now there is no ‘one way’ to plant a church when considering Missional Communities. But as people who have planted using Missional Communities, and having coached hundreds of church planters using this unique vehicle, we would like to share a few of the things we have learned along the way.

You will obviously need to contextualize this information to your city, your culture, your team and your gifts and calling. The temptation for church planters is to look for a ‘pure model’ and rigidly stick to that formula (which can have disastrous results). Well…there’s no such thing as a ‘pure’ way of planting a church. You will need to contextualize and use Jesus’ principles for discipleship and mission where you live. Undoubtedly, that will look different for each plant.

But we think the following can be a helpful place to start.

DNA of Multiplication

The key to success for any church hoping to use Missional Communities is building the DNA of multiplication into the church. We want to see multiplication on every level: multiplying disciples, vehicles for discipleship and mission, campuses and even churches.

That being said, creating a DNA of multiplication that works and is sustainable is one of the most difficult things you can do. It is always easier to grow by addition rather than by multiplication. But in choosing addition, you ultimately limit your rate of growth. Multiplication is what we’re after and while it’s a difficult thing to learn with Missional Communities on the front end when planting a church, it’s worth the fight when you hit a Kingdom ‘tipping point.’

The first year of church planting is usually the most important as you are setting the cultural DNA of your community and you’re dealing with wet cement and things will soon solidify. If your cultural DNA concretizes and doesn’t have the element of multiplication in it from Day 1, it’s a much harder task to change what has solidified. Particularly in a church plant with little history.

What does this mean practically?

Start with the thing you want to multiply (one Missional Community) instead of starting something different (the ‘church service’) and trying to start MC’s later. Gather and recruit your Core Team to this, knowing that the worship service will come. But before you can get there, you need to get the DNA right from the outset.

If you can multiply Missional Communities, the worship service will be easy. Chances are you already know that vehicle really well. Furthermore, the worship service will now feel like the overflow of community life instead of the replacement for it.


Give your Core Team a metaphor

To be clear, we are suggesting you wait to start a worship service until you feel confident in your communities’ ability to multiply disciples and Missional Communities. But that will take some time. And because almost everyone equates “church” with “worship service,” it will be crucial for the development of your Core Team to give them a metaphor for understanding what they are doing as it looks quite different and will take more time. If people don’t understand why you’re using this approach, they will quickly become frustrated and disenchanted.

Giving people a metaphor really helps them understand the purpose of what you’re doing and what you’re asking them to do. It gives them handles to understand something new.

There are many metaphors you can use and at the end of the day, you may want to use one that is completely original. But allow us to give you one simple example we’ve used before: Boot Camp.

In this first Missional Community, we aren’t in the heat of battle yet, but we are training for that. Currently, we’ve got a bunch of paintball guns and when something explodes, its just paint. But you’re doing your best to create an environment that simulates what it’s actually like and giving them the training they need to succeed.

With this first Missional Community, you are exploring together what an extended family on mission looks like, feels like, operates like. You are using this experience to train people how to disciple people and lead out in mission with a family, incarnating and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus wherever you go. (it should be said that you will probably need a minimum of 15 adults in your Core Team so it immediately functions like an extended family)

Eventually, because you’ve been investing and discipling people, that Missional Community will have several leaders emerge from it who are ready to start Missional Communities of their own.

And now you’ve started to multiply.


Start a worship service when you have at least 75+ adults

Resist the urge to start a worship service until you probably have 80-90 adults. This usually means you have at least three Missional Communities (though this is not a hard and fast rule). Again, the temptation will always be to start it sooner, but if you don’t have the mass needed to make it a ‘Public Space’, the social dynamics of a smaller group of people will quickly feel insular and stale.

However, once you’ve multiplied into two Missional Communities, you may want to start doing a worship service for the Core Team once a month. But you’ll want to do this in a space that’s appropriate for the size of your group. If you have 50 adults, you’ll want a room that feels ‘good’ for that size group.

This will give your Core Team hope that you are moving toward having a worship service (which is a vital part of a church expression) as well as giving you a chance to explore what it looks like to lead a worship service in a way that is true to your cultural DNA. It also allows you to learn how to make a worship service lightweight and low maintenance.


Different models for starting a Worship Service

Here are a few different ways to start your worship service. Again, there is no ‘right way’ and each model has strengths and weaknesses.

  • Centralized approach. Start once a month, ramp up slowly, and eventually get to every week. This will put more on your people’s calendar, but if you’ve disciple them well in how to order and balance their life, this can work really well.
  • Decentralized approach. Start meeting for your worship services more frequently and then slowly back off to meeting corporately once a month. This makes Missional Communities the dominant expression of your church community and truly makes the worship service an overflow, celebration event.
  • Lean into Temple and into the tension quickly. Start meeting weekly right off the bat (after getting 80-90 adults in MCs), knowing it will be a season of leaning into Temple. Prepare leaders for this, but also make sure you eventually lean back to Oikos, otherwise people will get the impression all that MC stuff was for before when we didn’t have this church service!


Again, there is no right answer. You will need wisdom from the Holy Spirit on which model (or a hybrid thereof) is right for your community. Each presents challenges and opportunities that you will need to attend to.

Here is our biggest caveat: Most church planters will plant a kind of church that is in reaction to another model they’ve seen and disliked. Either you thought there was too much emphasis on the worship service or too little. Too much emphasis on being decentralized or too little. Or you felt the worship service wasn’t done to your liking or their discipleship process didn’t work like yours will. And so you engage in ‘ditch-to-ditch’ thinking, jumping from one ditch to the other and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What you want to do is learn to live in the tension of embracing both the Temple experience (the worship service) and the Home experience (Missional Communities) to the degree that is right for your community, for what God is calling you to.


Choose to live in tension

If you’re doing this well, you will never escape navigating the tensions of time and energy once you start a centralized gathering. It will inevitably pull time and energy away from MCs and the organic life happening there. But we would argue that this healthy organic life cannot be sustained apart from the regular celebration service.

What you want to do is learn to lean back and forth on the Temple/Oikos continuum so you can respond to situations appropriately without losing your balance. Lean into Temple without killing oikos. Lean into oikos without killing Temple. Learn what is bottom-line necessary for each. Know how to do a “full-fledged” and “bare bones” version of each.



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3 Responses to Church Planting with Missional Communities

  1. Josh 2013/11/20 at 11:53 pm #

    Hi Mike,

    I think there are some very interesting thoughts in here. One question though, in Australia I have yet to ever find a Church that (most having started as home based Churches) that reach 80 – 90. (Which is actually larger than the average Australian Church)

    Would you say the key under lying principle here is ensuring the ‘missional community’ stays the core focus of the Church as opposed to the Sunday public gathering?

  2. Josh 2013/11/21 at 3:43 am #

    That was worded badly, should be more like – “I have yet to ever find a Church that having started as home based Churches ever reached 80 90 before launching publicly.”

    • Mike Breen 2013/11/21 at 7:38 am #

      Hi Josh, I hope I’m understanding your question.

      I’d say that it is important for Missional Community to stay the core expression of extended family within the church as it grows, yes, even after starting a Sunday public gathering.

      Anecdotally, I’d say that the reason many churches never reach 80-90 people is that there is no “engine” of discipleship and reproduction at the center of the MC/church. That’s how new MCs get launched and the church grows – you need disciples who can make disciples!

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