The result of the church being sent is that we live as a community of disciples—not only devoted to Jesus and to one another—but devoted to our neighbors and our city, too. When we come to Christ, we are sent on his mission in his community. You are called to work together and be together on mission, too! Jesus sent his disciples out into villages together. The early church sent teams of people into new areas together on the same or common mission.

A missional community is a group of people who are devoted to Jesus, to one another, and to their city. A missional community is a way to organize the church to gather and send groups of people on a common mission, (i.e. to engage artists in the city, engage a neighborhood, or help the homeless downtown).

A common mission is your community’s unified effort to love—through word&deed—a specific group of people. As you lead a missional community, one of the first things to think about is what your common mission will be. There are three broad categories for common missions: geography, network, and people.

Consider how your community shares the mission of making disciples. How can your community focus and unite around making disciples? This isn’t an activity but proactive and communal decision to love a specific people.

A Neighborhood as Common Mission

This common mission focuses your community to make disciples through word and deed of people who live around you. This mission aims at reaching people who share the same spaces: streets, grocery stores, restaurants, and parks. This can be very dynamic as your community can begin making decisions around where it shops, drinks coffee, and how it interacts with neighbors. Some great next steps include joining the neighborhood association meetings, finding needs within the community to meet, and becoming the people who welcome new people in and creates space for people to get to know each other. 

Geography can be particularly appealing for a community where the majority of the people live in the same neighborhood, subdivision, apartment complex, or dorm. It is also a good common mission in contexts where people feel a strong sense of neighborhood pride and spend most of their time within a short distance of their homes. Furthermore it is great because it simply requires a group effort to be intentional through their daily life at home.

Many of our missional communities focus on our neighborhoods. We hosted block parties, neighborhood art camps, and spent time cleaning and caring for the neighborhood elementary and middle school grounds. We tried to seek the welfare of the Hosford/Abernathy neighborhood by keeping up to date with its needs. Through all of this we built relationships and bonds with our neighbors. We invited our neighbors over for dinners, heard their stories, and shared the gospel whenever we had opportunity. Many of our missional communities experienced a lot of favor, too. Neighbors enjoyed having people that gathered and bonded people together. Through this type of mission, many communities began to care for the needs of single mothers, people with disabilities, and the working poor. 

However, geography isn’t a good common mission for every community. If the people in your community don’t live close to one another, this probably isn’t a good common mission. If the majority of the people are commuting into a neighborhood to do “life-on-life” mission, then it is shallow and traction is incredibly difficult to come by. Honestly, it’s just kinda weird to have people “reach a neighborhood” they don’t live in.

One final caution if you engage in a geographic centered mission: how will you care for the poor and welcome ‘the other’ into your community? We often find ourselves in neighborhoods that are isolated from the issues of poverty, crime, and injustice. How will your community step into needs, even if you don’t find them within your neighborhood?

A Network as Common Mission

So how can your community share mission if it doesn’t share a neighborhood? Your community can be on mission within the same network of relationships. For example your missional community could focus and unite around making disciples of artists, musicians, or writers. But it doesn’t have to be just within the arts, a community could also unite around a gaming community or an athletic team.

One of our early missional communities focused on a public house that hosted children nights and trivia nights. They jumped into this mission where they built relationships with the pub staff and the regulars (even though many in the community lived far way). They also served this space by helping start an open mic night. This proved to be a great way to step into relationship with those who didn’t know Jesus.

This is a great common mission to share if a community has common interests or an already existing network. Some of the challenges with this mission is to include others and not become an exclusive club. Another challenge many face is to include children.

A People as Common Mission

Who are the vulnerable in our neighborhood, city, or town? The marginalized are those who don’t get to experience the full-life of the city. They are overlooked, unheard, isolated, or pushed to the fringes of your city’s culture. Every city has neglected children or orphans. Your city has elderly, shut-ins, Alzheimer patients, and retirement homes few visit because our cultured views them as past their usefulness and relevance. Your city daily welcomes refugees and immigrants hoping to build a life and experience freedom. You city is made up of single parents, people struggling with mental illness, teenage runaways, people struggling with substance abuse. These are the people your city uses and ignores. The poor and powerless.

Jesus pursued people because he created them in his image and loved them. These people were welcomed into Jesus’ community as his beloved and his disciples. I believe Jesus calls his people to not only meet needs (cloth, visit, and feed) but also welcome into relationship. Jesus healed people and fed them, but the most powerful expressions of his love for them was when he invited them to his dinner table.

One of the big challenges (and big opportunities) with this common mission is the reality that the poor are kept away from many in the church today. Tim Chester describes this reality well in his book Unreached:

Friendship evangelism is great, but it does not enable the gospel to travel beyond our social networks, unless there are intentional attempts to build friendships with people who are not like us.

John Mark Hobbins of London City Mission says:

‘Many people live in networks which take precedence over their address, and many churches have grown because of this. But the reality for many people living in social housing or in cheaper housing is that their address is very likely to define their daily life.

If you were to engage in a life of mission to the marginalized, you would have to plan it, prepare for it, and strategically change your life to create avenues of engagement. All of that just to break through social, economic, and physical geographic barriers and get to a place where you could share life with the oppressed.

Mission to the poor requires a concerted and collective effort towards unlikely friendships and distant neighbors. This is perhaps its greatest strength to making a people your community’s common mission. You have to work at it and you have to work at it together. This mission requires a giving of yourself and a loving of the other in your city.

This common mission is also one that welcomes in neighbors, co-workers, and friends. As you meet engage the people neglected in your city, your city notices. As we serve and engage in relationship with the poor, we get to invite our neighbors into mission as they explore what it means to follow Jesus.

One challenge is the potential of placing yourself and your community as the “hero” and rescuer who swoops in and fixes people’s problems. That’s not true and it’s not good. Another challenge is seeing people as service projects instead of people. The challenges and rewards of this type of common mission are many.

Common Mission is a Process

Lastly, you need to know that arriving at a common mission and living it out is a process.  You won’t be able to give a rousing speech at your next community meeting and the next day be on shared mission. Once you decide you want to make disciples, a process begins. You might start by building a garden at the school, which leads to tutoring after school, which leads to coaching sports teams, or aiding in some other way, which may lead to sharing a meal with a family from the school, which will lead to deeper relationship. Just like any relationship is a process, so is disciple making. It takes time, it takes small, yet faithful, steps of obedience. You must ask yourself and those you are leading: “Are you committed to the process?”

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Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.