When we introduced missional communities to our church just over a year ago, the concept was new, not only to the members, but also to some of the leadership. People thought they had a basic idea of what MC’s were, but were still thinking in terms of traditional small groups. The church had a small group ministry that numbered about nine groups shortly after the beginning of the church. Six years later only one group remained active.
In October of 2018, we began training with the leaders of these now inactive groups to introduce the principles of missional living through gospel-centered groups. In January of 2019, we offered similar training to the rest of the church and an orientation to missional communities. We had a decent response and after eight weeks launched our pilot MC. This MC has been the “proving ground” for those involved and giving real-time experience in gospel practices. Our goal had been from the beginning to birth another MC out of this one.
As the new year approached the phrase “Sunday Dinner” kept coming back to me, mostly because our MC met on Sunday evening and we shared a meal together. My wife and I began talking about the idea of reframing our MC around the concept of an invitation to Sunday Dinner. We have always loved hosting, preparing food, and seeing people connect authentically around the table. So we sensed the Spirit prompting in the direction of making the shared meal more of the center so that real life conversation can take place, leading us back to Jesus and the good news.
In December we began promoting a fresh round of MC orientation starting in the new year. We were reframing our MC’s to now be called Family Tables. Our folks never really connected with the term ‘missional community,’ seeing it as little more than a cooler name for small groups. But when we changed the language to Family Table, conversation rather than discussion, and focusing on the shared meal more than a content-driven evening, people caught on. They understood these terms. Inviting someone to missional community elicited quizzical looks and awkward silences, but inviting someone to Sunday Dinner or Family Table needs no explanation. The response goes from ‘what is that?’ to ‘what can I bring, and what time?’
Our Journey So Far
The MC orientation last year took place at our building on Sunday evenings. This year I wanted to do the orientation within the context of our existing MC. In this way, the newcomers would experience this adventure together in the real life environment of the host home. We also wanted to demonstrate to those participating that hosting a Family Table, while being a big commitment, is something they can easily replicate. Logistically, it has been a mild challenge, but we are managing.
We wanted to make leading a Family Table more accessible to people who otherwise felt ill-equipped to lead a missional community. If you love Jesus and can reasonably guide a conversation, you are pretty much qualified. The leaders will be trained in principles of gospel fluency and in introducing topics and guiding the conversation, but will not need a Bible degree to lead a Family Table.
Family Tables capitalize on the family identity of our missional communities. We serve one another by offering generous hospitality, sharing great food, and caring for one another. We feel more confident about inviting our not yet believing friends to a gathering like this and ensuring they feel they belong at the table. They, in turn, get to see up close what family can look like with Jesus at the head of the Table. It puts the cookies on the lower shelf for all of us, relieving us of the pressure to prepare a Bible study, to perform well, to have all the answers, or to make astute observations during the discussion. It’s just conversation among family, after all.
Other features of MC’s are still intact in Family Tables, for example, praying about and choosing a common mission. We still keep the mission of discipling people to Jesus at the heart of what we do as Family Tables. Also we are forming DNA groups in the near future to provide a format for deeper dives into the Bible and nurturing one another’s hearts around the gospel.
Family Tables are intended to look like real families, with couples, singles, kids, teens, and senior adults all around the same table. It is special, too, when those families around the table reflect other ethnicities and nationalities. Our current Family Table is blessed to have this diversity, and it is a beautiful thing to see. At the end of our current training, we have a leader and a host home ready to birth a new Family Table. We are so excited to see people getting it and wanting more!
We love hearing ways missional communities are innovating to reach their neighbors with the gospel. What are some ways your communities have creatively engaged missional community life?
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