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Missional Strategy: What We Do

Note: This article is the second installment in a series of articles called “Missional Strategy: Why we do what we do the way we do it.” Previous articles are always available at

It is in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus introduces the world to something new when He declares, “On this rock, I will build my church.”

In this passage, the English word church is translated from the Greek word ekklesia. The most basic understanding of what the church does can be found in the meaning of this special word.

Ekklesia is a compound word made up of ek, meaning out from and to, and kaleo, meaning to call. By name, Jesus described His church as the gathering of those who have been called out from the world to gather together.

Jesus later clarified in Matthew 18:20 that ekklesia requires only two people gathered in His name. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

When two or more people gather in the name of Jesus Christ, something profoundly mysterious and gloriously miraculous happens—we experience the presence of Jesus Christ in a way not possible when we are alone or when we are gathered for a different purpose.

Of all the things the Church does, nothing is more important than intentionally gathering people together in the name of Jesus Christ. It is what we do.

Jesus modeled three settings for gathering people in His name. All three provide powerful and unique forms of saving and transforming grace:
The Crowd

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Lake (Matthew 13) are both examples of Jesus utilizing a crowd to distribute grace.

The crowd level of gathering is very effective at offering specific aspects of grace. A crowd is a big deal—a gravitational event in and of itself. Crowds can inspire, awaken, motivate and affirm—often providing the spiritually charged atmosphere in which significant life decisions and spiritual advancements are made. A crowd provides the opportunity for a person to be a part of something significant.

But the crowd level also has limitations. A crowd is not conducive to the building of relationships. It does not require participant involvement beyond spectating. It can result in attendees who act like consumers rather than worshipers; and leaders who act like performers rather than ministering servants. The American church is highly susceptible to the adulterations of worship that can develop in a crowd setting—things like pride, consumerism, greed, and idolatry.
The Group

Matthew 26:17-35 is one of the many examples of Jesus gathering with his group of disciples to distribute grace. With His disciples, Jesus utilized the group level of gathering more than any other level. That should tell us something about the importance of group gatherings.

Group gatherings are highly conducive to the building of deeper relationships. They provide a familial atmosphere that breeds genuine koinonia fellowship: common concern, intercessory prayer, and mutual organic responses to needs. It allows for the deeper study of God’s Word through discussion and the asking of clarifying questions. Groups also provide an opportunity for participants to utilize their unique spiritual gifts — something nearly impossible in a crowd gathering. A group provides the opportunity for a person to be a significant part of something.

But the group gathering also has limitations. Groups cannot provide crowd-level graces, and because they tend to involve as many as twenty-five people, including men, women, and children, groups cannot serve as the place for sharing personal confessions about trials, vulnerabilities, failures, and struggles. Such transparency is available only at the core level of gathering.
The Core

Matthew 17:1-13 (the Transfiguration) and Matthew 26:36-45 (The Garden of Gethsemane) are two examples of Jesus gathering with His core group to distribute grace. Jesus’ core group included Peter, James, and John.

The core group is highly conducive to the building of intimate, trusted, and highly confidential relationships. It provides a safe space for full transparency and confrontation—allowing God’s grace to penetrate the deepest recesses of the heart, mind, and spirit. Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Core groups provide the opportunity for life to be open to examination. Because they are small in number, core groups tend to be very flexible in scheduling meetings and very agile in responding to crisis needs.

But core groups also have limitations. They cannot provide crowd and group-level graces. They tend to be difficult to develop as participants seek well-suited affinity and personality matches. Core groups require a long-term investment to build confidentiality and establish trust. Due to their highly confidential nature, core groups can be especially risky and messy.

Reflect: Am I experiencing every aspect of God’s transformational grace provided through gathering? Am I regularly meeting in crowd, group, and core settings? If not, am I willing to acknowledge that I am missing out on valuable aspects of God’s grace?

Does the American church rely too heavily on the one-size-fits-all crowd setting for distributing grace? If yes, then what changes could we make to prioritize the building of deeper relationships into our church mission and vision?