How can this moment become more than just an agenda item on everyone’s planner? How is it more than just a ‘thing’ you lead?

The weekly missional community meeting is the “garden plot” of missional leadership. A weak or disorganized weekly gathering produces similar results. An intense and over structured meeting can suck the life out of what should be a relational time of saints and skeptics with God at the center. This meeting is the foundational building block of community. All the hopes and aspirations for life outside that time will flow from this structured time. The liturgy of your community is not logistics but worship planning.

What do you include? How much is too much? This is a simple guide to what a typical community gathering looks like. Within each element you will find ample room for creativity and intentionality. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit animates each moment and the gospel is made clear through each activity.

Full disclosure: I’m really bad at this. I had to write it all down just to focus myself!

Before The Night

Believe it or not, there is work to be done before everyone arrives at the host home or gathering spot. Here are three crucial steps to be done each week.

Planning

As the leaders you have to plan out the purpose of that week’s meeting. What will be the 1 big goal you have for that time? What will be necessary? How will you pursue that goal in the limited time your community has together? How can everyone prepare?

TIP: This weekly purpose is most easily done by thinking about the entire month. Toward the end of the month, plan out the next week-by-week and how each week fits with the other, who will lead each week, etc. This really alleviates leadership stress!

Communication

Tell everyone in the group what the plan is for the evening. What the focus will be, what you will be doing, and what to bring for food. Try to communicate early in the week so no one has to run to the store at the last minute to bring a dish. This is where a good communications person who thinks ahead is really helpful.

Preparation

The person leading the intentional time will need to prepare to lead. The host needs to prepare the home. Each participate needs to prepare their hearts and food to share. The leaders pray. A community has to prepare itself to experience community.

Gathering&Eating – 1 hour

The weekly meeting begins through arrival or through gathering. This is the moment and time where everyone’s individual responsibilities, schedules, and to-do lists collide into a moment of expressed community. The community gathering into one place is a special time. The worries, struggles, fears, and happy news of each member comes rushing through the door. Our lives are hurried until this point. Our lives are physically separate until this moment. This is how a meal is more than a logistic to work out but a spiritual discipline of being united. You are physically united by the table gather around, the complete meal comprised of each persons contribution,  and under the prayer recognizing God’s grace.

Furthermore, this is more than a Christian dinner party. It is a gathering of those lunging toward belief in Christ. Through the meal we engage one another as family in Christ and we engage Christ. This is a fantastic space to grow in your love for one another. Let the conversations around the dinner table be focused and important. Embrace this moment with honesty. As a leader, spark the conversation to be more than about the movies we watch and the latest sports scores.

  • Ask each other how the week is going and expect long honest answers.
  • Ask everyone a common question that will lead to deeper understanding of each other: What is your favorite summer memory from childhood? Or how do you prepare for the Christmas holidays.
  • Ask about how each person is processing the sermon from Sunday, or about the service that was done as a group the week before, circle back to past hardships people have shared.
  • Simple things to like what are you thankful for today. What was the hardest part of your day today?
  • You could also have a person or couple in the “spotlight” where they are able to share in more depth their story, current spot in life, and what they are going through with the community having the chance to pray for them.

Transition&Announcements – 10 minutes

After the meal, you will transition to a more focused time that isn’t interrupted by the eating and excitement of getting together. Believe it or not, transitioning from the lively and sporadic conversation of the table to the pointed purpose of the gathering is the most difficult part of leading a community. This is when you’re anxiety of pleasing people will come through. This is when control takes over. This is when leaders often lose track of time. This has always been my biggest struggle.

One of the best ways to signal a shift in gathering is with announcements, which have to be shared anyway. You want to have a time where the community can communicate about the life happening outside. This is the time to share about upcoming opportunities to serve others, parties where we invite neighbors, what’s happening in the church as a whole, and even the upcoming meal plans. This is also the chance to ask everyone: “what’s coming up in the next couple weeks?”

TIPS FOR TRANSITIONS:

  • Dismiss the children to their activities and time (if this is something your community has decided to do). 
  • Clean up from dinner
  • Actually move from sitting at the table to sitting in the living room.

These things help create a clear marker and shift in the evening.

Intentional&Focused Time – 45 minutes

For a precious 4o minutes your community will share the spiritual practices of  learning to following Jesus. You will do this together. This is special. You have gathered from separate lives and brought your lives into unity over a meal. You have discussed how your life together will spill out into other arenas through announcements. Now it is time to do something together. Will this be an evening when your community will do something to grow in it’s love for Christ together? In it’s love for neighbor?  Here are just a few ideas of things you could do. However, this is a space to be creative and your ideas will be better for you than mine because they will be yours.

Growing in Our Love for Christ Together

  • A time of communal prayer, daily Examen or Lectio Divina.
  • A time of reading and studying the Scriptures together.
  • A time of confession on where we are with struggles, belief/doubt, mission, relationships, or simply following Jesus. This would be followed by a time of confessing God’s faithfulness.
  • A time of repentance and faith through singing, artwork, discussion, or some other creative way to worship God together.

Growing in Our Love for the City

  • A time of prayer for those in your common mission.
  • A planning meeting where your community plans how it will engage the poor and vulnerable in a concerted way. Not theoretical but tangible: who is going to bring what, who will be there, how can those who aren’t there support the others.
  • Discussion on what gifts, skills, or resources your community has to offer.
  • Plan a party or event you can invite friends, family, and co-workers to join in.
  • Have a conversation about what your community is learning about itself while on mission and about people. What has been challenging.

Scattering&Sending – 2 minutes

Then comes the moment when the evening is done and it is time to leave and re-scatter. Close your time together by praying for the lives you will live physically separated but spiritually unified. Pray a commissioning prayer as your community leaves and goes their separate ways. Pray for the children, the parents, the students, the teachers, the entrepreneurs, the artists, etc, that they will be reconciled to Christ and that they will be an image of God and his grace. I have far too often missed this opportunity. I am also terrible and bringing meetings to a clear conclusion. This sort of benediction is incredibly helpful.

After the Night

Following the time together it is typically a good idea to have the “communication” person send out a quick message on what was discussed and planned (so people can remember and those traveling or unable to make it can be aware). This is a thoughtful way to include those who are unable to come, especially the frequently traveling, the medical professionals working 12 hour shifts, and the night shift workers in communities who regularly miss these meetings.

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.