Repositioning church as a mission agency
From a talk by Rob Wegner, Microchurch Leader Kansas City
"Gone are the days when you count successful church members as those that tithe, read the bible, have a good marriage. These are important but a more important measure is being able to put that person anywhere in the world and a church forms."
In 2019, about 80 followers of Jesus left the prevailing church structures to be the seeds for a grassroots movement in Kansas City. They believe it is the birthright of every child of God to be a loving missionary and disciple-maker where they live, work, learn and play. Their aim was to plant the gospel in networks of relationships across the city, see disciples made and witness the church emerge in new contexts.
At KC Underground, they function with a two-entity structure, a mission agency and a network of microchurches. The mission agency equips everyday people to be loving missionaries and effective disciple-makers in new contexts. As new disciples are made in a new context, a microchurch emerges. When they have four to six microchurches in a geographic region or affinity group, they network them together in what they call Collectives. Collectives have shared elders, mission, and resources.
Microchurches are extended spiritual families, that live in everyday gospel community, they’re led by ordinary people, not paid professionals, and they own the mission of Jesus in their network. For some, this is a very specific pocket of people or corner of culture. For others, this is a geographic network of relationships often defined as a neighbourhood.
Throughout their first year, they have seen 20 unique microchurches emerge in different contexts. They love the Western church, but hope for more than Sunday morning worship and middle-class Christianity. They want to see the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. In other words, they want to find every place where they don’t see the Kingdom of God flourishing and bring it. Wherever they see the Kingdom, they want to expand the borders.
They are intent on creating a network of reproducing disciples, leaders, microchurches, collectives and hubs that will saturate Kansas City with beauty, justice and good news. Their dream is to see a missionary on every street and microchurch in every neighbourhood so that every woman, man, girl and boy can hear, see and experience the gospel.
Rob comments further:
I was leading the global mission efforts for a local Community Church. We got connected with a church planting movement and men and women who had seen these disciple making movements explode became my mentors and kind of ruined me. I rediscovered a more primal definition of what it means to be the church. It was a movement that ended up being more than 200,000 new disciples and 22,000 different microchurches. It was ordinary people who were making new disciples in new contexts. They started operating like spiritual families. They would send out people and they were reproducing like rabbits!
They had disciple-making and these microchurches as their central organizing principle and I could see they do way better job at empowering people to be disciple makers and it began a 20-year journey for me to say, "Okay, why not here, why not us?".
We believe if you stay as a faithful missionary in a context long enough, Jesus will always draw people to himself. If you live consistently the missionary rhythms that Jesus and the early church live, you will get to see Jesus draw people to himself. Sometimes it takes years.
We have had a couple who have been living as missionaries for two years in a neighbourhood. Living out blessed rhythms - prayer, listen, eat, serve, story, getting discouraged. Not really having any spiritual conversations until about four weeks ago. They said, "You're not going to believe it. We started doing Discovery Bible studies this week and everybody went nuts.".
It's like, "You did it, you did it!". You stayed with Jesus and the rhythm of prayer and listening and meals and serving. And now they're having gospel conversations with people.
In the equipping gathering, there is corporate worship and our missionaries and micro-church leaders are coming in as warriors, off the field with stories like David or they're coming tired or discouraged. They just need to pour out their heart to God. I'm not seeing any fruit. I'm not seeing. Lord, I need to remember your faithfulness.
How are we organised? We have a mission agency and the mission agency exists to equip ordinary people to be missionary disciple makers, make new disciples in a new context. So we're not organising Christians on the back end of a weekend service. We don't have any weekend services. We're organised around how missionaries can make new disciples in a new context. What you have is a micro-church emerging. So we don't talk about planting micro-churches.
Typically, when people say plant something, what they're talking about is starting a formal meeting - a service. And the goal of a micro-church is not to have a formal meeting. Do micro-churches have meetings? Yes, there's organised meetings and a lot of organic touches between the meetings. But the goal is to see a new extended, spiritual family emerge. And so when you see new disciples in a new context, you have a new extended spiritual family built it around worship, community and mission.
Then micro-churches begin to multiply. So we started with one micro-church here in our neighbourhood, but it's multiplied to seven here. We will formalise those into a network that we call a collective. So a collective is a network of four to six or eight micro-churches either by geography or affinity.
We identify governing elders over those collectives. They are hyper-local and you have elders that you live by, who know your context. That becomes a new mission agency called a hub which supports the collective(s) and the missionaries. The mission agency is a team of leaders that are equipping microchurch leaders.
How would I suggest beginning the micro-church discussion within the context of a Sunday-centric traditional church?
I served most of my life in large churches, helped plant a church in the early 90s and then moved to Kansas City six years ago and was on staff at a large church for four years here. And our first batch of micro-churches actually emerged while I was on staff at that large church in Kansas City. What I would recommend is a few things:
Research - personally do the work of reading the right books, attending events, begin to expose yourself to micro-church, download resources such as ours. Another book is the Underground Church by Brian Sanders and Starfish and the Spirit by various contributors. Start that journey of reading and exploring.
Start the conversation with leaders, elders, etc. We had a conversation as an elder team and we basically went through some of these resources together and agreed. We needed a space for this experimentation, like an R&D project, a skunk works that's on the side.
Start living it personally. For me it was about, okay I need to be a missionary in my neighbourhood. So just activate yourself as a missionary in your context. And for me, my wife and my kids, it's like we're going to live the blessed rhythms in our neighbourhood. It starts there, engage it intellectually, but engage it with your life.
Train others. I started training people that we had already discipled into deeper missionary formation. And what happened, over a course of two or three years, is they really started getting true traction - micro-churches began to emerge. So it's a yeast in the dough strategy.
We don't have to reboot everything. Just let the story become compelling. Large church and microchurch can exist together, but there's some paradigm shifts that have to be in place. You need to prioritise missional. A large church could be a hub i.e. training for microchurches but recognise that microchurches are relational and adaptable enough to be able to contextualise into every unreached pocket of people in a city. It can get to people that your weekend service will never ever reach and they will never come to.
The lead team will always be connected by coaching and equipping, but we can't require people in microchurches to come to the weekend service. This will slow down the momentum and the gospel. The key question is, "Does the centre actually exists to equip the margins for the gospel to advance? Or are we saying that margins really all need to come to the centre?" If you're willing to say the former, I think a large church can be a hub for micro-churches.
See also the following articles; The Underground, Contrasting Church as we know it;
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From a talk by Rob Wegner, Microchurch Leader Kans, 13/04/2021