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Story 29 - Missional Communities

Hoole Baptist Church, Chester
By Suzie Abramian in conversation with Andy Glover, HBC, Chester 31st July 2020
 
Located in a busy suburban area on the edge of Chester, Hoole Baptist Church has been on a journey of transformation over the last seven years, moving from a relatively traditional model of church to a focused model of Missional Communities which run alongside, and integrate into the inherited church. Now known as HBC, Chester, this has also led to an expanding vision to serve the city of Chester and not just Hoole.  

On the surface it may seem surprising that such a radical change was necessary, with a healthy membership of over 100 people including children, and a variety of activities happening throughout the week. However, as Minister Rev. Andy Glover explains, he and a few others in the church were becoming aware that despite this appearance they weren’t making disciples or growing disciples.  
Story29 - Pic1This missional adventure began initially within the leadership who spent 2 years journeying as part of a learning community with Paul Maconochie, then senior leader of St Thomas Philadelphia, Sheffield (church plant led by Mike Breen) learning about specific models of Missional Communities. 

Although during this time the church were made aware that nothing would be changing immediately there was constant encouragement for them to carry on together and listen to what God was saying during this time. Andy reflects that the church’s strong charismatic and prophetic background was key here for discerning the will of God throughout this time which he describes as a process of ‘evolution rather than revolution.’ 

During this time, it also became apparent that they needed to look at how to change the culture of the church itself. One of the main ways this happened, Andy notes, was to look at the language and vocabulary used within the church. Amongst other things this has involved the church learning what is means about ‘being the church, rather than going to church’, who are ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10:6) and how the church’s meeting could adopt more of a ‘Kairos moment’ approach, asking ‘what is God saying and what are we going to do about it’?

In 2015, after these essential years of preparation that precise kind of moment arrived when circumstances meant the church would be without a building. It seemed God was creating the right time to launch the first missional community! Whilst the inherited church still continued, 8 new missional communities were created including on the Blacon Estate, a large council-built estate with just three families from the church, two next door neighbours to each other. Within a couple of years this community had grown to 45 people, requiring the families who were neighbours to take out their dividing fence panels so they could all fit in! 

But what exactly do these communities look like? How do they operate? And perhaps most importantly, what exactly is the definition of a Missional Community?! 
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Andy describes a Missional Community (or MC) as ‘Family on Mission’, a definition found in Mike Breen and the 3DM team’s writings. They will consist of between 15-50 people with ideally 4-6 leaders, so not like a small group but as Andy says they’re ‘small enough to care but large enough to dare.’  

Perhaps the most important distinctive of a MC as opposed to a more traditional homegroup or life group, is its missional focus. It is intentionally there from the outset. With HBC’s Missional Communities each community defines its own missional vision, which could be based on their geographic location or around a particular focus such as a school.  

For HBC, they have also identified certain essentials that each MC should include, which is to have ‘Focus (the afore mentioned Missional Vision which each group defines itself), Food, Fun, Fired Up (in faith) and to Feel like family.’ All of these can connect with an ‘Up, In and Out’ model of mission which the MC’s are also required to include in their practice.

Consequently, these essentials give a relative amount of freedom to what they will do in practice depending on the people in each MC. This is also a marker of the MC model at HBC which gives ‘low control but high accountability’ (M.Breen), allowing each MC to define its own vision but still connect back to the core of the church, such as by the non-negotiable way MC leaders must meet with the church leadership for regular training and accountability.  

Whilst MC’s can obviously look very different depending on each context, in the case of HBC there is still the connection back to the inherited church which meets for a larger, whole church gathering twice a month. Interestingly, Andy observes that whilst there is about 130 in membership in the church there is now around 100 more connected with an MC, some of whom have never attended the Sunday services. However, there is a noticeable interest in attendance to the Sunday gatherings when people, initially connected by an MC, come to faith and want to grow deeper in their walk with Jesus. 
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Seven years into this transformation Andy comments on what a radical change it has made on discipleship within the church, particularly the quality of discipleship. He observes that a new culture has started to take hold, where they don’t just talk about church but instead about faith, something which has had a strong impact of the discipleship of those who have been Christians for many years. And with the change to their main church structure, he says it actually frees up energy and instead gives ‘missional energy.’ There is also evident fruit in terms of conversion when the church looks at the number of baptisms within the last couple of years alone, especially amongst the youth age groups.  

On reflection, Andy highly encourages other churches to think about how else we could use our Sundays, particularly to be more missional. He also notes how much imitation was key to their church and that the leadership needed to go and see models of Missional Communities working elsewhere. With the suspension of many established patterns and routines within churches over this last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this kind of model of church could also be a great example of an alternative way to gather as church and above all, foster genuine discipleship.  

 
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