Midsize Mission Renews Europe's Declining Churches

Churches across Europe are reporting that setting up midsize missional groups alongside their worship services is proving to be an effective strategy to not only revitalize struggling congregations, but also to help attract new people in a post-Christian society.

Midsize groups range in number from 15 to 70 members and do anything from handing out flowers to women on Mother's Day, meeting in cafes with non-Christians to explore the practices of the faith, to serving in a discipleship program.

The majority of Mid Size Communities (MSCs) include worship, fellowship and mission, but the primary purpose can differ from being a church's main vehicle for mission, a combination of pastoral and missional, or serving as the basic unit of the church.

In the paper "Mid Sized Mission – The Use of Mid Sized Groups as a Vital Strategic Component of Church," Joanne Appleton describes MSCs as having the potential to be "building blocks to a city-wide church planting movements as a networked expression of church."

Missional MSCs, which works with mainly non-believers, want to grow, Appleton explains. But by their very definition they are midsize, so as they get bigger they have to reproduce other midsize groups thus sparking a church planting movement within the existing church structure.

St. Andrew's church in Chorleywood, United Kingdom, for instance, increased its actively participating members from around 400 to 1,500 in less than five years since planting MSCs alongside its services and small groups.

Five years ago, the church was confronting declining attendance and less than 12 percent of the congregation was in small groups, recalls Andrew Williams, associate vicar at St. Andrews.

Now, 72 percent of the church members belong to one of 32 midsize missional communities serving their neighborhood by working with the deaf, elderly and homeless.

Williams believes MSCs "release the potential of ordinary believers to get involved in the outward dimension of church life," according to Appleton.

A key principle to MSCs is they are run by people and not a pastor. In some models, several midsize groups meet together to form a cluster that worship together on some Sundays each month. These clusters rotate with each other in attending central services. In some church models a cluster only attends the main church service once a month and gathers together for missional activities during the other weeks.

"For my part the cluster is the church," said Pastor Trond Loberg, of Normisjon Storsalen Church in Oslo, Norway. "The mission field is so big. We haven't reached it in the traditional way; we need new ways. Some of the clusters will be released from our church – if they are only 10 people they are still a church and some of them will grow up to be a celebration and a church in their own right. I don't want to focus on how they will grow. I just want to get them out there."

MSCs meet in homes, restaurants, cafes, pubs, shopping malls, mountains, and even in garages. Each MSC has a specific target, for instance, to share the Gospel in the break-dance community or to reach out to business people at work.