Our friend Alex Absalom of Dandelion Resourcing, along with his co-author Bobby Harrington, has written a tremendous new book — Discipleship that Fits — that helps church leaders create a discipleship model that works for your church, your people, and today’s world. They do this by taking a deeper dive into the five different contexts where God disciples us and calls us to disciple others.
Today, we’ll be looking at an area of discipleship opportunity that so many churches miss: the Social Context.
According to Discipleship that Fits, the Social Context happens when people move out of the Public Context and into smaller groups ranging from 20 to 70 people — think a backyard barbeque or a holiday party at a neighbor’s home. These gatherings help give people more freedom to share snapshots of themselves and build connections in ways that aren’t always possible in larger groups. When we connect with others in this context, three things start to happen:
- We start forming neighborly connections — the people we can call upon for minor favors.
- We start to connect with people we’d like to become closer friends with.
- We reveal elements of our identity and our journey we hadn’t previously shared with those people.
Jesus, for all appearances, loved ‘hanging out’ in these Social Contexts. He dined with a large group of tax collectors at Matthew’s house after calling him into ministry (Matthew 9), He invited Zacchaeus to host a house party on His behalf (Luke 19), and commissioned a group of 72 believers to go ahead of Him into the towns along His path. Each of these interactions in the Social Context afforded Jesus a chance to start getting to know people as individuals and to allow them to see parts of Himself and His ministry that they couldn’t have gotten in a larger group environment.
These same benefits come to believers in what we often call ‘missional communities’ in our churches. These groups are the best expression of the Social Context in contemporary church life, but unfortunately they’re often hard to find in their most effective disciple-making form. If these groups do exist with this number of people, the chances for people to safely share aspects of themselves and their lives may be lacking. Without sharing, people lose the chance to build relationships and common affinities and to strengthen the life and work of the missional community.
This is a huge loss for the church, as missional communities are terrific examples of what it looks like to build an extended network of relationships (centered around Jesus) that then go out and make disciples among another specific group of people.
All hope is far from lost, however! By encouraging your church members to do what Jesus did in the Social Context — just ‘hang out’ with people and create opportunities for them to connect to Jesus through you — we can turbo-charge our Kingdom impact. In Discipleship That Fits, Alex and Bobby share simple ways for you to encourage these connections in your church and help you overcome many of the fears and objections that might come with a more deliberate approach to living out the Social Context.
To get you started, think about these things:
- To read Alex’s definition of a missional community, check out the blog post What Is A Missional Community?
- How can you start to release the first generation of missional community leaders? Who do you need to involve in those brainstorming sessions?
- What about your existing community life is rich and vibrant? What areas will need some cultivating?
- How can you help your church see the value of living in community, around a common mission? How are you living out those values in your own life.
To get a copy of Discipleship That Fits for yourself, just click on over to Amazon. Or you can connect with co-author Alex on Twitter. For another look at the five contexts, check out this infographic.
Alex Absalom leads Dandelion Resourcing, which empowers leaders, churches, and denominations to build more effective disciple-making cultures. He is also the leader of missional innovation at Grace Church Long Beach, CA, an avid tea drinker with his wife, and, with their three sons, a huge fan of Liverpool FC. You can connect with Alex on Twitter at @alexabsalom.