Missional Community as Fractal

Image from Wikipedia Commons

If you want to see the hand of God, look at the natural world, His creation. So, for some time, I have been looking at the natural world for analogies to the Body of Christ. One of the most powerful images from the natural world I’ve found relevant to the Body is a fractal. Wikipedia defines it this way:

A fractal has been defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole, a property called self-similarity. Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that are approximated by fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, snow flakes, various vegetables (cauliflower and broccoli), and animal coloration patterns.

The image of a snow crystal above and a quartz crystal below are both examples of fractals. If you put them under a microscope, you will see patterns that repeat themselves in smaller and smaller ways. The large crystal is made up of many, many smaller crystals that look exactly like the whole only smaller.

Image from Wikipedia Commons

I am working with the leaders of City Church Eastside to build out a system of Missional Communities within our served communities in Atlanta. These missional communities are part of a discipleship model at the core of Mike Breen’s work at 3DM. (See a post about 3DM’s model here.)

City Church has a vision of multiplying disciples and missional communities across the Eastside, with the hope of planting additional campuses within the city. I am using the Fractal image to help the leaders of the missional communities understand they are like micro expressions of the whole church. They share the same DNA, but are smaller in scope and reach. They are seeds of the mother church, with all the elements necessary to grow into a church in each community.

When City Church was planted 3 ½ years ago, it all began with a plant team in Candler Park, gathered by the Pastor and his wife into a bible study in their home. They began to walk along side those who came into the fellowship, sharing life-on-life discipleship. From this early start, they began a discipling process, men with men, women with women. With equal parts invitation and challenge, they began to speak into each other’s lives. Transparency and vulnerability done within deep fellowship were key elements.

The plant team grew, and leaders emerged from this discipleship journey. Soon, they were worshiping in a rented space, as the fellowship grew. As the assembled grew from twenty to forty to sixty, the pastor and his wife did not have all the band width to do life on life discipleship with everyone. So, another pastor joined the journey, with the idea that he would someday go out to plant another church.

After two years of intentional discipleship, some were ready to lead their own Spiritual Formation Groups. Soon, there were seven Missional Communities in the neighborhoods we call our parish, and a number of men’s and women’s discipleship groups were formed with the first disciples leading them. The focus of the Pastors’ time stayed focused on the formation of the leaders. It is the leaders who would walk along side the new people joining the fellowship.  By this process one becomes a leader of leaders, and the reach can multiply, because the leader is equipping and empowering other leaders.

As I joined the staff team this year to help out with leadership development and strategy, I could see one disconnect. Our men’s and women’s discipleship groups were formed across the church, and not within the neighborhood Missional Communities.

Mike Breen, in a series of blog posts, explained Missional Communities through an image of fire. Mike says it this way:

Essentially, the dynamics of the early church was so infectious, so vivacious, so transformative…it spread like wildfire. That’s why we read passages from Acts that say, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We started to get into the three elements of that red hot center: Passionate Spirituality, Radical Community and Missional Zeal.

He points out that only about 30 people can get close enough to the flame to become infectious. 30-70 people can be somewhere between participation and observation, and above 70, you are relegated to observation alone. When you build out missional communities as fractals of the whole, then many more can get close to the flame.

But, for that flame to be present in the Missional Community, you need the intersection of Passionate Spirituality, Radical Community and Missional Zeal. By building our discipleship groups apart from the Missional Communities, we encouraged deep relationships, but did not make sure the resulting passionate spirituality and radical community was happening within the context of the Missional Communities, and the flame weakened.

We made a strategic shift this fall, blowing up our existing Spiritual Formation process, and remaking it within each Missional Community. Now the men and women of the community are going deep together, creating the possibility for sparks Radical Community and Passionate Spirituality to come together with a shared Missional Passion to create an infectious flame.

There is no guarantee that this will work, but we are creating structures that will allow and encourage it. Each of the Missional Community leaders is being discipled by the Pastors and their wives. We are creating a low control, high accountability environment based on the early church that emerged in Acts.Famous Mendelbrot Set Fractal Image from Wikipedia Commons

Now, I am using this fractal image to help the leaders understand that they are essentially the pastors of church-planting teams in each neighborhood. Since the Pastors are pouring their lives into equipping and discipling the leaders, they have decreasing bandwidth to walk alongside others in the church. So, if our Missional Community leaders do not create bandwidth in their lives to walk alongside those newly entering our fellowship, disciples won’t multiply. We are trying to equip disciple-making leaders.

So, for our community of leaders, this fractal image is both an invitation and a challenge. They are invited to become Kingdom leaders, workers sent out into the field to harvest. They are being challenged to live lives worth emulating and to disciple others. But, you cannot disciple others unless you are being discipled yourself. Hence, all discipling leaders are also being discipled. You cannot choose to be a leader unless you have first chosen to be a disciple.

If this work is done well, we have hope of living out the vision of first multiplying disciples, then multiplying leaders, and finally, multiplying churches. A Godly vision of this sort, lived out well by the leaders, can change a city. So, go and be a crystal and multiply. You'll find it's fun to be part of a fractal.