In preparation for a Missional Core Teams workshop I am co-leading with Rick White at the Acts 29 Bootcamp in Dallas, I’ve been going back over my notes from the core team days of Austin City Life. For those interested, I am including a narrative timeline of our first 9 months of core team development. We tried to follow the Spirit organic style (and still try), so we never launched but have grown intentionally and steadily in gospel depth and number. Glory to God! So here are the Stages of Organic Growth we experienced.

Meals and Mission (1 month)

Our first three or four meetings focused on community and vision. Instead of holding “vision-casts” in which disconnected contacts came to an informational meeting and left disconnected, we started our meeting with home-cooked meals and fellowship. This became a hallmark of our missional communities (aka City Groups). The intention was to build the church on Jesus-centered community with a missional identity. We felt like we should emphasize relationships and vision first, which meant cultivating community and mission in the gospel.

Vision and Mission (2 months)

The next couple of months were spent imparting and discussing the core values of the vision of Austin City Life. This was conducted in a very dialogical fashion, which allowed the values to percolate and to be refined in our community. It also afforded us the opportunity to contextualize our values. For example, after a discussion regarding “truth,” “gospel,” and “word” as a core value, we deliberately chose not to use “gospel” terminology since “gospel” is so misunderstood in Texan Christian culture. We opted for truth. During this time I explored and encouraged non-Christian attendance. We had one conversion and several de-churched people attend or join. The resistant nature of many unchurched Austinites made building a mixed (Christian and non-Christian) missional core group very difficult.

Commitment Night

At the end of about three months, I met with each family and asked them to consider committing their time, creativity, spiritual gifts, and finances to the vision of ACL. This gave me an opportunity to field questions that had not been asked in public, filter prospective members, and receive encouragement regarding the Spirit’s work in our community. Then we had a commitment night in which we celebrated with a grand meal in our home, at a long table, and I gave some biblical and cultural reflections on being the church in Austin. I distilled the big vision into three very basic, biblical concepts that were easy to grasp. We ended with communion and worship.

Bible Study (2 months)

Next we moved into a phase that increased the elements of church by adding the authoritative component of teaching. I led them through a study I developed called Themes in Luke-Acts: The Seeds and Shape of the Missional Church. It was didactic and dialogical. It allowed our people to get a sense of my ability and style of teaching, as well as to grasp the biblical foundations for missional ecclesiology. Many remarked how studying the Bible strengthened their convictions and practice of missional church. Eventually this grew into a full-blown service that met in a really ugly office building, but it was centrally located and free. The main intention behind this meeting was to provide a final component of extended worship and preaching. We had 20-25 core people and floating visitors.

Strategy and Community (3 months)

After a sufficient depth of community and practice in mission was established, we introduced a strategy/community meeting that met for a much shorter amount of time during the week. This meeting ran in addition to our Saturday Bible Study/service and was aimed and cultivating deeper community, missional health, and ministry basic structures and leaders. I developed some Missional and Structural Health Indicators to guide us toward a “launch.” This ensured that basic ministries would be in place once we went public (Children, Worship, Hospitality). We corporately wrestled with timing of launch and if a launch was even necessary. During this time we introduced a monthly prayer meeting, training for City Group leaders, and deployed the City Groups prior to a public service. This was an intentional move to build the church on missional communities, not on a service.

Services and Children’s Ministry

We eventually moved into a city center location that we had been praying about for months. God dropped a killer theatre into our lap for way below market value. We moved into that venue and initiated Sunday morning services once our missional and structural health was in place. We did no advertising and simply invited people in our social networks, believers and unbelievers. We began to grow in our service and in our City Groups from the beginning. Children’s ministry took a lot of energy and was worth the effort. Lay leaders were critical.

This is an excerpt of a slightly longer document called Stages of Organic Growth.