The vision of The Austin Stone has always been “to be a New Testament Church, existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ.”
Early on as a church, we were committed to the authority of the Bible and the supremacy of Christ. Additionally, the things that made us unique as a church were a willingness to try new things and a strong commitment to necessary change.
At the outset of the church, preaching and worship were definitively our core competencies. It’s hard not to be when you’ve got a guy like Matt Carter filling the pulpit and Chris Tomlin leading worship! We continue to pursue excellence in these areas as a church but also early on began to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with simply doing church on Sundays.
Several different things throughout time led us to consider missional communities. From the outset we had a desire to be a church that led people to Jesus and changed our city, but we began to analyze our strategy and structure in light of that desire.
Asking Tough Questions
In 2006, our lead team was reading through Transformation by Bob Roberts, and the book posed this question: “What if the church was the missionary?” That’s when some lightbulbs started going off. Rather than simply operating as usual, we began to examine everything we did in light of adopting the posture of a missionary. As we processed that question, we realized that when we aimed at community, we got neither community nor mission, but when we aimed at mission, community almost always resulted.
Also, we started surveying church-planting movements around the world, and some very clear patterns emerged. We realized very few of them were characteristic of our existing communities.
Finally, we began to see mission as central to the new testament church as we studied Acts together. In many ways the mission to make disciples was the organizing principle of every facet of that church. We just couldn’t keep doing church the way we have been doing it after we considered all these things.
A Learning Journey
Those early years were filled with many questions, several challenges, and a lot of learning along the way. One of the things I continue to be grateful for is the leadership of Matt Carter and Kevin Peck, as they are men who embrace change and are willing to lead through it. Convinced we HAD to change, our church began the process of transition to missional communities late in 2006.
We made several mistakes in our transition, adopting more of a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, but God was faithful and our people were forgiving. We learned how powerful stories are in shaping vision, and how necessary structure and practices are in persevering in mission.
Although the process has been long and difficult, it has brought more joy in Christ, obedience to the Spirit and God’s Word, and greater fruitfulness in disciple making in our city. We have learned a ton about leading people through change, about leading a rapidly growing church, and about leading people into everyday rhythms of community and mission.
Take Your Time
Perhaps the single greatest lesson we have learned in the process is that it takes time for churches, communities, and individuals to change. In fact, a transition from start to finish takes the better part of a decade! The process is long, but in my opinion the outcome is worth it. We see more and more people pursuing God’s mission to glorify Himself through making disciples in a community on mission. Austin may not look extremely different now, but in the years ahead, by the grace of God, this city will change.
What has led you to consider a transition in strategy?
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Curious who Austin Stone’s people are. Are we talking predominantly upper middle class whites?
Thanks for asking! The people of The Austin Stone are a broad mix of life stages and ethnicities, and our demographics vary significantly by campus. It’s pretty hard to paint with a broad brush!
Our Downtown Campus largely consists of college students and younger professionals. Our St. John Campus is broadly diverse in demography, although predominantly anglo. Our South Campus is considered by many definitions multi-ethnic with over 30% of the attending population being non-anglo. Our North and West Campuses are both more suburban, with a larger population of families with children.
One of the greatest opportunities with respect to missional communities is learning how to apply the convictions we have about the nature of missional communities in a variety of different contexts!
I hope that helps answer your question!