Attending to the team (the 'missional community') is vital throughout a fresh expression's life. The missional community - whether large or small - enables the new church to emerge and sets its tone. Research shows that in the business world teams of entrepreneurs rather than any one person found a substantial proportion - perhaps the majority - of new ventures.
This page, which should be read in conjunction with 'Mission team' on the page How should we start?, uses a well-established framework to explore some of the issues involved, but puts the topics in a slightly different order to normal.
These are not so much distinct stages in a missional community's life as overlapping and often parallel aspects of a community's story. Each aspect is likely to be present in one way or other throughout the group's existence.
Forming the missional community will occur throughout the community's life, as with the other processes we describe. Trigger points are the arrival of a new member, who inevitably changes the dynamics of the group. Forming involves members getting to know each other and establishing ground rules. It is about forming the community's identity. When you start hearing 'we', you know that this process has occurred.
Forming includes selecting new community members
Willing helpers may not be readily at hand, so realistic expectations are necessary. However, it may be worth keeping the following in mind:
Additions to the group have down as well as upsides
Unless they are replacing someone, a new member will make the community larger and perhaps more complex. Managing the team could become more demanding. The group needs to be sure that the extra skills and contacts the newcomer brings will outweigh the disadvantages of this added complexity. Might the person contribute without belonging to the community - as an adviser perhaps?
A more diverse group can improve the community's capacity
The team will have a wider range of skills and networks. More diverse views can produce better decisions. But diversity may also reduce cohesion, increase conflict and cause an actual decline in effectiveness. The 'exchange theory' of groups maintains that individuals want to get out of a group at least as much as they put in. They do not want too much dissent because it is less comfortable and involves more effort than conformity. Balancing these considerations needs prayerful thought.
Hidden processes influence the selection of community members
There is often an unconscious tendency, for example, to select people who are similar in some way - like attracts like. Whose voice is most influential in decisions about new membership reflects the distribution of power within the missional community. Being aware of such processes makes a degree of detachment from them possible, and negotiation between members about them becomes easier - 'Have we agreed how the decision will be made and that the leader will have the last word?'
Size may affect the time it takes the team to form
Elephants have longer gestation periods than fleas.
Forming should be about forming community
Even if there are just two of you. If the missional community sets the tone for the emerging church and community is essential to being church (see The IN dimension of church), then community must be at the heart of the team's life. This may be a new experience for some members. They may have been in teams where relationships were hierarchical. Individuals related to the leader and only incidentally to others in the team. The vertical reporting relationship (to the leader) predominates over relationships with other members.
Teams with a stronger community feel have a greater emphasis on horizontal relationships. Individuals don't just relate to the leader, they have strong ties to others in the team. There is more sense of shared decision-making and mutual support.
These images assume that fresh expressions develop from an existing Anglican church. If the top image represents your church, then the second image may be helpful. However, there are many more models of team that allow for and develop in a non-hierarchical way. Developing church from incarnational mission is likely to result in new ways of working, so a flexible approach may be more helpful than working around existing models.
Beth Keith, The Sheffield Centre
Take deliberate steps to get to know one another
This will start to create community. These might include:
- doing things together, such as sharing meals in a culturally appropriate way, having a video evening or going away together for a day. The group's tasks will be balanced by shared rest and recreation.
- doing a Myers-Briggs exercise to help members understand how their personalities differ, and a Belbin Team Roles exercise to help them identify the type of roles they gravitate to. These exercises can be seen in a theological context - God has made us different and values diversity. A trained facilitator, perhaps suggested by the denomination's training officer, would help the group interpret and apply the results. Occasionally repeating the exercises, especially when a new member joins the missional community, will provide an opportunity to discuss whether the community has put into practice lessons from the previous exercise. How far do actual group roles match results from the Belbin test, for example?
- listening to one another's experiences of team working - both good and bad. This can begin to reveal values that will help to form the group's mission values. Listening to a new member's experiences may spark a helpful discussion of an aspect of the missional community's life.
- evolving a simple process (or rituals) for welcoming new members. This might include sharing the group's story so far (which could help to introduce the person into the community's values and modes of working), and perhaps a non-threatening game through which the team can learn something about the new arrival.
Encouraging individuals to share their lives
Just as Jesus and the disciples and then members of the early church had close fellowship. Shared lives are central to being community. The leader will play a central role by modelling openness - by having the courage to admit mistakes, for instance. (This will also build trust.) Jesus did not hide that he struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane - that's how we know! When leaders show they are incomplete, they open the door for others to help.
Using ice-breakers before the group gets down to business can be helpful. The ice-breakers can be low key to start with, such as: 'What was your best holiday?', 'What was the best meal you've ever eaten?' and 'What was your happiest memory as a child?' As individuals become comfortable with each other, you might introduce more challenging ice-breakers: 'Can you describe a time when God failed to answer an important prayer?', 'What aspects of the team's task do you most struggle with?' and 'What have you found most life-giving as we have worked together?'
Ice-breakers might be followed by prayer, before the business part of the meeting begins. For ideas on ice-breakers, you might read Garry Poole, The Complete Book of Questions. 1001 Conversation Starters for any Occasion, Zondervan, 2003.
Norming occurs as members work together, developing close relationships of trust. It helps turn the group into a community. It involves negotiating roles, relationships and task procedures. As such, it overlaps with 'Forming'. 'Norming' is complete when members accept a common set of expectations about how to do things. But the process may restart when a significant new member joins the group or a significant transition occurs in the fresh expression's life.
Spiritual norms should be nurtured as a priority
They will centre on members' inner hearts. Addressing the inner heart includes clearing it of barriers to healthy relationships with other people. This clearing process, which is ongoing, is a work of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ, who self-emptied himself to the extremes of death, acts to cleanse the inner heart of its preoccupation with self. Prayer and other spiritual practices become vehicles for this work of the Spirit.
The leader, or perhaps a specially appointed 'spiritual guide' within the missional community, can help to clear a path for the Spirit - for instance, by ensuring that the commmunity spends plenty of time in prayer and possibly by inviting members to hold each other to account for being disciplined in their spiritual practices.
Encouraging 'communal' norms is also essential
Individuals give time, expertise, encouragement and the like to others in the missional community in response to perceived needs and to express their commitment to the relationship (rather than just to the task). They go the extra mile. Expectations and ways of being 'communal' will differ from group to group. Communal norms enhance team working by:
Members learn to trust one another to care for their needs. People who are communal are more likely to express emotions and accept the emotional expressions of others. This fosters open communications, which expands members' knowledge of others' motivations, goals and viewpoints and lessens misunderstandings that can undermine trust.
Individuals understand each other better and so identify with one another more strongly. They begin to see others' perspectives, resources and identities as extensions of their own. Members grow in confidence that the resources needed to cope with challenges will be available in and through the team. Belonging to the missional community becomes more valuable.
Strengthening the sense of obligation among team members
Meeting someone else's needs creates a feeling of reciprocal obligation in the other person. Experiencing empathy for the other person increases the willingness to help. Members work better together.
It is important, therefore, that the group keeps working at these 'communal' practices and does not take them for granted. This means that ways of getting to know one another and sharing each other's lives should seen as part of the norming, as well as the forming aspect of the community's life. The danger, however, is that groups become too 'communal' - that maintaining warm and comfortable relationships gets in the way of accomplishing the team's tasks, not least its mission task:
- members may become so comfortable with each other that newcomers find it difficult to join the group.
- they avoid conflict to preserve supportive relationships;
- they withhold critical feedback on others' performances, which impedes learning.
So 'task' norms must accompany 'communal' ones
Focusing on tasks will provide direction about what community members are supposed to do. A shared vision and goals will draw members together. Established organisations normally have a handbook or website with policies and procedures governing how employees should work - health and safety for example.
In new missional communities, developing very simple understandings of how members will work together is done intuitively and provides a structure for the group's work. These understandings might initially cover, for example:
- how often the team meets;
- whether there will be an agenda, and if so who will set it;
- whether notes of the meeting will be taken, and if so by whom;
- whether expenses can be claimed and how.
As the work proceeds, other task-focused norms will emerge. How these norms become accepted will influence the evolution of the team's shared life. For instance:
Are norms set by the leader or agreed by the group as a whole?
The balance between what the leader insists on as part of their gift to the missional community and what the team decides collectively will, of course, vary from one group to another. The more that norms are owned by the group, the greater will be members' commitment to the community and identification with it.
How effectively are norms 'defended' by community members?
Norms that are upheld bring a degree of certainty and predictability to the team, which alleviates anxiety. This may be especially helpful for pioneering groups that are operating in contexts of considerable uncertainty. Task-centred norms help to create a safe space in which community can form. If norms are not upheld, trust in the group's processes will be jeopardised.
Are norms intentionally reviewed from time to time?
This can be done very simply by periodically inviting members to comment on their ways of working and to suggest improvements. The resulting conversation will bring to light any difficulties and increase members' ownership of working arrangements.
Without communal relationships, task-centred relationships can become mechanical and over-formalised. Lacking the flexibility that comes from going the extra mile, they can become rigid, with a loss of creativity.
Keeping a balance between spiritual, communal and task norms is vital.
The missional community should not be so warm and friendly that nothing gets done, nor so goal-directed that the fun and spontaneity of working together evaporates, nor so spiritual that common sense is ignored, nor so practical that the spiritual is taken for granted.
Communal and task norms, undergirded by self-emptying hearts, will build trust, group identity and mutual obligation. When team members face uncertainty and disappointment, their norms of working together will see them through.
Storming is usually put after forming, because there can be an uncomfortable period of jostling between members before the group settles down. But it is listed here third, at the centre of the five aspects of a missional community's life, to symbolise the central part that storming (or conflict) can be expected to play.
It helps to have realistic expectations
Conflict - the tension that occurs when two or more individuals or groups disagree strongly about something - is only to be expected in a healthy team. Think of all the disagreements among the disciples and in the early church!
Conflict may well reflect the pioneering nature of the task
Because the group is engaged in something new, there will be times of uncertainty and confusion as to what to do next. The team cannot rely on previous knowledge for making decisions. In these circumstances, conflict will be more likely.
Conflict may reflect a healthy diversity within the group
Different viewpoints, from a range of perspectives, allow issues to be considered from a variety of angles. The team is less likely to overlook something important. Conflict feels less threatening when it is approached as a learning opportunity - 'What can we discover from these conflicting views?'
Conflict can be a sign that individuals are being given space
Social workers recognise that in unhealthy families, members are silenced. Healthy communities will allow - even encourage - dissent to enable their members to flourish. Disagreement is evidence that individuals are free; conformity may suggest that some members are being suppressed. Conflict can indicate that power in the missional community is dispersed.
Conflict can help to build community
'Pseudo-community' exists when everyone is polite to each other, individuals speak in generalities and platitudes, and real encounters are avoided. People are pretending to be community. True community starts to form when members share their real thoughts and feelings, and endure the hurt of the disagreements that result. Conflicts are the growing pains of community.
Handling conflict constructively can provide good learning
Experiencing well-managed conflict will school members in how to respond to conflict outside the missional community. In particular, it will help them to manage conflict positively when it occurs in the emerging fresh expression. A new church that copes well with conflict will show its members how to use conflict fruitfully in other situations, which will be a blessing to society.
For these reasons, when handled well conflict can be creative. Not shunning conflict will reduce anxiety when dissent occurs and give members greater confidence to face their differences. So for example, instead of an angry outburst being greeted with an embarrassed silence and then ignored when the conversation moves on, members will be more likely to have the courage to explore what lay behind the outburst. As they understand each other better, and perhaps make appropriate apologies, the missional community will draw closer together.
Agreed practices for handling disagreements may be helpful
Especially in teams where dissent becomes highly charged emotionally. Negotiating these practices would be part of the norming process, again illustrating how the 'forming', 'norming' dimensions of a missional community's life all overlap. One youth church spent two evenings talking about how best to handle conflict. The teenagers came up with a host of ideas. These were distilled into some key principles, such as sort things out immediately, don't talk about others behind their backs and don't shoot other people's bullets. Some missional communities might want to do something similar.
One helpful practice may be to punctuate periods of conflict with prayerful silences. In moments of tension, the self can become agitated and over-busy. Individuals find themselves talking a lot in their minds or speaking out loud a great deal. Sometimes they use God-language in a way that colonises God, who longs to break into their thoughts. Introducing a time of quiet can still some of this frantic mental activity and give space for team members to reconnect with God. The Spirit can help individuals to distance themselves a little from the issues and get a wider perspective.
Members can be encouraged to pay attention to their inner hearts. What are they feeling strongly about? Where is this emotional charge coming from? Are there motives that should be taken to the cross? As feelings begin to settle, some of these reflections may be shared with the wider group. Acknowledging vulnerabilities will help members to empathise with each other and increase mutual understanding. Individuals may start to see the issues differently.
A key leadership role is to articulate differences
When group members seriously disagree with each other, it is important that the leader keeps re-expressing the different views that exist. 'We do need to remember the point Jane has made that...' 'In response to Steve's comment, John, I wonder if you would be saying...' The leader should do this whether or not they are chairing the meeting, and especially if they are a protagonist in the debate.
Articulating the different views is a constructive way of managing conflict because:
It shows the different parties that they have been understood
Sometimes individuals over-press their views, provoking a negative response, because they fear they have not been heard. Knowing that the leader understands is affirming (especially because the leader tends to be seen as the most important person in the team), which helps reduce anxiety. Showing that individuals have been heard is one of the few tasks the leader cannot delegate. Chairing and facilitating meetings, discerning vision and much else can be shared around the team; showing that the leader understands cannot.
It helps the different parties understand each other
Hearing the same point in different words can bring clarity. Hearing it expressed calmly can encourage a rational instead of an emotional response. The leader may comment that a view is strongly held, but conveying that information in an emotionally detached way will encourage a greater degree of detachment by others. The discussion is not drained of feelings; rather, individuals are encouraged to process the team's feelings without being swamped by them.
Potentially it allows contributions to be reframed so as to bring people together
A frustrated, 'That's wrong!' can be turned into, 'John feels that that misrepresents the situation. What bits of the picture did Judy capture and what other bits might we want to add in?' This encroaches on facilitation. Re-framing contributions is a skill trained facilitators have, and not every leader has it. Might an outside facilitator be invited, especially when disagreements disrupt the group?
Re-expressing others' views is a skill that leaders can learn. Role-playing exercises can be particularly useful. A start might be to role-play situations in your mind. You might look back at a conversation, discussion or a meeting and ask, 'How might I have articulated some of the views expressed?' Regular practice in your imagination will begin to affect your behaviour in real life.
Conflict is best managed within communities of grace
In grace-full missional communities, members recognise their own flaws, weaknesses and need of forgiveness, making them more ready to forgive others. When forgiveness permeates, the aroma of grace smothers resentment and enables conflict to be handled constructively.
To forgive is also to understand the cry behind the behaviour
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, DLT, 2007 , p37
When we forgive, we cross over to the other person, as Jesus has crossed over to us, and enter into their view of the world. To make this journey, we need to work on our emotional lives so that we act and feel from our forgiven selves. If we speak from our wounds, we judge and hurt each other. If we act from our forgiven hearts, we go out to the other person in love.
This requires continuing attention to our inner hearts, a willingness to turn into our pains and fears rather than evade them. When we flee, we convince ourselves that our hurts are too uncomfortable to face, which makes them seem even more forbidding, and which further encourages us to flee, so that the pain is never embraced.
On the other hand, to be filled with the Spirit, who intercedes for us with groans (Romans 8.27), is to encounter God in the midst of our hurts. When we turn into them, we find the welcoming arms of Christ. What we had feared becomes a divine encounter. Even here, we discover, love conquers, so that the more we embrace our pain, the more we are embraced by Jesus instead. Over time, our fears and hurts gradually subside.
Encouraging members of the missional community to cultivate their inner hearts may well be the task of the leader, but some leaders may not feel called to this. Their leadership excels in other areas. In these cases, the community would be wise to seek out a spiritual guide who can nurture this aspect of the group's life. The guide might be a member of the team or lead the community in regular retreats.
How conflict is managed will do much to shape a team
If members learn to handle conflict constructively:
- the missional community will feel safe;
- levels of honesty will rise, which will strengthen community and aid performance;
- a more diverse membership will be possible, which will broaden the gifts, insights and network connections available to the community;
- power is likely to be distributed more widely within the group.
As the missional community evolves, with members joining and leaving, the leader would be wise from time to time to review their default leadership style. Is their approach still suitable for the group? Would a different style - and perhaps different leader - be appropriate? If the leader can discuss this openly with the team, that would be a real sign of maturity!
Performing, as understood here, is the aspect of the missional community's life that concentrates on getting the task done. The focus is not on team relationships, which underpin performance, but on agreeing and then working towards shared goals. Performing will centre on the continuous looking forward, looking back, milestone review, planning not plans and evaluation processes described in How can we navigate uncharted waters? Between team meetings, individuals will perform a range of tasks generated by these processes.
Whether it is a tiny or larger group, members will need to be equipped individually and corporately to undertake this work. They will require ongoing training and support. Many fresh expressions suffer because their leaders and missional communities have not taken time to learn from other people. Learning is at the centre of discipleship. It requires a humble spirit. If you are the leader, how much time are you and your team spending in learning from others? What does this say about your disposition of heart?
A missional community should consider its initial training needs
- learning the principles of birthing and growing a fresh expression. Should members of the team attend a Fresh Expressions vision day, short course (mission shaped intro) or perhaps even the one year part-time course (mission shaped ministry)?
- discovering how to create church in the emerging culture. ReSource provide immersive mission experience weekends in a range of locations and contexts. There is also Cliff College, 20 minutes south of Sheffield, which offers full time and part time courses in theology and mission.
- imagining what church looks like in a post-Christendom context. Urban Expression run the Crucible Course 'for Christians with courage and imagination'.
- personal evangelism. One of many possible organisations to seek advice from is Church Army. Pioneer Network run a discipleship and evangelism course for young people called DNA. CMS run a number of one-day events to encourage pioneers and evangelism - see their Events page.
- where appropriate, health and safety, child protection and the basics of financial management.
The missional community will need ongoing support
- might someone in the community join a learning network and bring insights back to the group? Learning networks enable practitioners to share experiences and wisdom, so as to avoid re-inventing the wheel and repeating the same mistakes.
- might the community benefit from a coach or mentor for a while? Coaching need not always be one-to-one. It can involve whole teams. On-the-job coaching can be a highly effective form of training, though sadly it is not always available. (See Bob Hopkins & Freddy Hedley, Coaching for Missional Leadership, ACPI Books/Fresh Expressions, 2008).
- might people with appropriate expertise be invited to talk to the community? Might the group visit a similar venture?
- might someone from the community keep in touch with practical advice from the Guide?
- what reading might team members undertake?
- how will the community be spiritually nurtured?
- how will it remain connected to the wider church?
- what prayer support will the community receive?
The team leader may need support
The team leader may need support over and above that available to the missional community, such as:
- a spiritual director or guide;
- someone outside the community to cry and laugh with;
- practical support (where appropriate) in moving house, getting started and finding specialist help;
- accountability arrangements alongside practical support. This is discussed further in How can we get support?
- a mentor or coach. This would be personal to the leader rather than available to the missional community;
- further training in the principles and practice of fresh expressions, or in biblical studies and theology.
The leader's and team's spiritual health need particular attention
A number of pioneers have become burnt out because of the pressure involved in bringing a fresh expression to birth. Some would say that this pressure has been at least partly self-induced - through their intense anxiety to succeed for instance. Prioritising their emotional and spiritual well-being should be a must for founders of new churches, however small. Founders owe this to themselves, their families and friends, the venture they are leading and above all to God. Might missional communities share the responsibility of maintaining their leaders' spiritual health?
No leader burns out as an isolated figure. Their burnout always affects others. Failure to pay attention to one's spiritual and emotional health, therefore, is an indulgence bordering on selfishness. Taking care about eating, exercise, sleep (watch those emails late at night!) and proper Sabbath rest are vital if leaders are to give their best.
Depending on the scale of the venture, might leaders spend a day a week in prayerful attention to their inner hearts, under the guidance of a spiritual mentor or counsellor? This may seem a lot. But if a church-start is truly to be a work of the Spirit, time dedicated to the Spirit must be a good investment.
Adjourning happens if the missional community disbands after a time. Maybe the attempt to start a fresh expression was not successful. Or perhaps the community was fruitful, but for a limited period. As the venture comes to an end, so may the team's life. In such cases, endings must be take place with dignity. If the missional community can let go, grieve, give thanks for what was, learn and share any lessons, then move on, it will enable others in the fresh expression to do the same.
Team members will be helped to let go
If they can share together their reflections on the journey they have travelled and how they feel about the approaching end. Being honest about any disappointments and jointly owning the responsibility (not blame) for any shortcomings will help to ease the pain. Mistakes can become a gift to the kingdom if they can be a source of learning for the wider church. 'These are things that we would have done differently' can be hugely helpful to practitioners who are starting out.
Centring the group's discussions round 'What can we share with others?' will help to turn something that could feel quite negative into a positive activity. Mistakes can be 'redeemed' in this way and become part of what the missional community celebrates and thanks God for. 'We didn't achieve what we hoped' (perhaps), 'but our experiences are far from going to waste.'
Mini 'adjournments' occur when individuals leave the missional community
Most teams are good at farewelling and thanking their members. But they are not always good at learning from the departing person's experience of being on the team. Members may be surprised by what they discover when they invite a departing colleague to debrief the group. The person might be asked to describe what they have most enjoyed in belonging to the group, what they have learnt from their experience and what issues they suggest the team give further thought to. These reflections may later give rise to a helpful conversation within the missional community. Endings don't have to be loose ends. They can enrich the ongoing life of the team or the wider church.
Adjourning, as well as forming, norming, storming and performing, can nurture the missional community's life.
Nurturing the missional community → shared leadership