The future of Missional Communities

By August 8, 2012we are 3dm

I posted this almost 9 months ago, but as we’ve had a number of conversations about this very topic this summer, I thought it would be helpful to repost it.


If you’re trying to learn or relearn something, you have to construct a context in which that learning can take place, yeah?

Here’s an example to this point: Just imagine for a moment everyone in the world forgot how to drive a car. And they had these hunks of metal on wheels in there driveways and don’t know what to do with them. One day you hear, “There was a time when they used to drive them, sit in them, and go places.”

“No way!”

“Yeah! That circular thing is a wheel and you can turn it and it directs where that heavy thing would go. (By the way, it’s called a car).”

“Really? Because we’ve been using it for kids to climb on and we’ve put planters in the headlights. You mean it’s not to be used for lawn ornaments?”

So imagine that world. Your friend has told you this. You do a little digging and after a while you find this book and it talks about how to drive a car. What do you do? You don’t just get on the road and take it out for a spin. You have no idea what you’re doing. You have no idea how people react, or for that matter, how many people you might kill in that metal death trap. What you do is get it on a racetrack where you have space to test out the car without hurting anyone. It provides a space for you to experiment and get your bearings when driving this new vehicle.

We’ve lost the extended family and we’ve lost the oikos on mission. (Oikos being the Greek word used in the New Testament for “households” that refers to the extended families existing as households on mission for the first 300 years of the life of the church).

What we are doing with Missional Communities (20-50 people acting as an extended family on mission together) is constructing an oikos that helps us understand what the NT church did and how it did it. It’s a cocoon where we learn all of the necessary skills so that we can be an oikos and be a family on mission. Missional Communities aren’t the end goal. They are the vehicle that gets us back to the original thing. MC’s serve as the racetrack where we can get to know this foreign thing before we take it back full force onto the streets, which will take some time.

In 50 years time, people will look back and say, “It’s hilarious, they used to make people get in MC’s because they didn’t know how to do this. Isn’t that amazing!?”

Or to use another analogy…Missional Communities are to oikos what a cocoon is to a butterfly.

Or even another one…Missional Communities are the training wheels that teach us how to ride the bike of oikos.

(***And just to clarify, because I get this in the comments fairly often, I am not proposing that we abandon worship services where all these MCs come together. I believe these are needed and valuable for sustaining the mission of these extended families. For more on this, read this post by clicking here.)

About Mike Breen

As a speaker, author, and entrepreneur, I have been working throughout Europe and the US for the past 25 years. My passion is to continue to invest in the next generation of leaders, and one of the ways I have sought to do this is to write several books to help equip those working in the missional movement. Building a Discipling Culture, Covenant and Kingdom, and Family on Mission are a few of the most notable titles I have released.


  • It is true that the early generations of Christ’s church gathered in small communities (Acts 4) and particularly in homes. But it is also true that they still remained very active in the larger worshipping communities, even the synagogues. Part of the thrust of Paul’s teachings in letter like Ephesians is his pursuit of unity among those “churches” in which all sorts of people gathered, gentile and Jew alike. Agreed, I believe the missional community – as you define it – is a necessary means to relearn how to be the church. But the caution I would place in the conversation is this: if this is all we focus on, we will lose touch with the beauty of a diverse larger gathering, one that houses people who would never be together otherwise, which ends up being the strongest apologetic to the world. Think: Antioch, where our nickname was born! My experience is that missional communities are typically like-minded groups with shared interests. This is of course a strong am positive component to loving one another the way Christ calls us to. But we must not lose touch with larger worshipping community, the one we stand with on Sunday mornings, surrounded by people we’ll never know and those we possibly don’t want to know, and this reminds us that we are part or something much larger than an extended family. This is global. And we get to be a part of it. So I’m one of those. Both / And people. Promote and resource missional living, while not forsaking that large impersonal thing on Sundays, when mission isn’t the message, the work of the gospel in the world is. And there’s something profound about hearing that “in unity of faith” (Ephesians 4).


    •' Mike Breen says:

      Completely agree, Derek. I’ve actually written a fair amount on this topic. if you look at the bottom of the post, you’ll see a link to one of the blog posts that I think articulates this well.

      • Mike, yes. And I apologize that I didn’t add that in there. I have in fact read your other posts, and I meant to include that in my first response. So if I may, imagine this line: “And as you have rightly put it in the past…”

        Love what you’re doing, my friend.

  •' Phil Tiews says:

    I am just beginning to explore missional communities as you folks are practicing them, but I come from the experience of a renewal community which will be celebrating its 45th anniversary this fall. There are many reasons behind it which I don’t have time to go in to here, but we are seeing a need now to revive a corporate missional orientation and activity. I believe 3DM is going to be very helpful to us in this.

    Since our beginnings in the 60’s and 70’s we have observed, as you do, that natural community or extended family had been lost and this was a major reason for the need to develop intentional community as an expression of ‘normal’ new testament life. With bumps along the way, the movement we are part of experienced some success at this. One result is that in 45 years many of our members married one another and their children have married and now we have numerous clans! A success, the restoration of extended family!

    My reason for responding to your blog is that our current experience is that it is not a foregone conclusion that extended natural families, although wonderful, nurturing environments, will actually be families on mission, at least not with the intensity and focus that you have come to know in missional communities. There is a tension between ‘natural community’ and ‘intentional/missional community’ that will require a whole new set of gifts and skills for ‘patriarchs’ to negotiate.

    this is a good problem to have, but a challenge nonetheless.

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  • […] many people can run a program, but very few can build a family. Missional communities are the training wheels that we probably won’t need once we figure out how to live life together for the good of our […]

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