How to… start a missional community
Andrea Campanale of Sacred Space Kingston shares her learning
STEP 1 Gather people
I run a missional community called Sacred Space Kingston. I started it five years ago, having done outreach to spiritual seekers at New Age type fairs since 2005. It began because those who had come to faith found it nearly impossible to settle into conventional church. The services were too long and they felt they had little in common with the regular members of the congregation. I was also gathering people who had been in church for a while and who wanted more space to question and experiment with Christian disciplines from other traditions, as well as be more intentional about mission. It seemed like a logical next step to pull these folk together into a missional community.
STEP 2 Develop a rhythm
I deliberately wanted us to be very different from what we’d come from, so we began with a very relaxed, informal and relational style. We met in ones and twos to build relationships, and would come together as a bigger group for meals every couple of months. After about a year, everyone was begging for more structure. This was because it was so fluid people were struggling to work out who we were and what our purpose for being actually was. So we developed a rhythm for meeting throughout the month. We now have prayer every other Thursday evening at someone’s house, one Monday evening a month we join with Kingston United Reformed Church for a Christian meditation and we have a community meal once a month where we break bread and extend hospitality to those who are not yet members of our community or another church.
The men decided they wanted to do their own thing in addition to this regular pattern of meeting. So they go out for a curry, take a long walk that ends at a pub or go off-roading. These activities happen as and when it suits them. We also have a community meeting twice a year where we hear what everyone is up to, review what’s working well for the community and decide where we might need to change in order to keep pace with what people are doing.
STEP 3 Prioritise relationship
I think what makes what we do distinct is that the relationships are real and honest. Most of us have had, or support someone with, a mental health problem or learning disability. We are therefore used to sharing at a deep level and have a high degree of self-awareness. The core group have also known each other for a long time and have come alongside one another in many joys and struggles over the years. We are also intentionally missional. Our goal is to be agents of transformation in the area and spheres of influence where God has placed us. When I conceived of it, I imagined Sacred Space as a Fresh Expression of church for spiritual seekers but that idea has evolved since its inception. I now help each member of the community work out their vocation and then devise a way in which this might be fulfilled through missional activity in Kingston. We have set up a town centre chaplaincy service which is being run by a retired social worker in our community and I am currently partnering with another member of our community and a dwindling Baptist congregation to re-imagine their building as a community arts centre.
STEP 4 Discipleship through mission
I’ve come to believe that one of the reasons previous evangelistic efforts have failed to bear as much fruit as we’d hoped is because as soon as someone outside the usual orbit of church became a Christian we encouraged them to become just like us. They began only socialising with other Christians and conformed to our values and lifestyle choices. I think we mistakenly thought this was discipleship, when really it was the very human desire to want to fit in. The consequence was that new believers were then unable to reach back into their web of contacts with the gospel.
What I’m seeking to do with Sacred Space is to enable people who have access to relationships in a network or subculture to work out what it means to be a follower of Christ in that context. They then disciple others within that culture and create ‘church’ that is a reflection of who they are. My hope is that indigenous expressions of church might grow out of the Sacred Space missional community and that we become an umbrella for a plethora of unique and diverse expressions of the Body of Christ in Kingston.
STEP 5 Discover some theory that makes sense of your practice
On reflection, I have found inspiration from a school of thought called communioecclesiology.
This relies upon the Trinity – God in relationship as three distinct persons, each with a different purpose, but with a common aim and made of the same stuff. We have much to learn from this about how we function as Christian community marked by unity, diversity and love. However, this relationship at the heart of God does not stay exclusive and self-serving. It overflows and invites the whole of creation to join in its work of redemption, restoration and reconciliation. For me this is what mission is about. It is a huge a privilege that, wherever we are located, God allows us to partner with him to bring about transformation.