3 Steps to Leading Your Church to Be on Mission

The Austin Stone lead pastor, Matt Carter, shares his thoughts on the missional core of a church.


We all say that we desire to pastor a church on mission. But how do you know you’re successful? You know you’re pastoring a missional church when your church is full of missional people. When the people sitting in the pews are actually living on mission for God.

I started The Austin Stone Community Church 10 years ago. Our church is full of young people. The average age is 26 years old.

But getting them all to actually live like Christians is very hard to do. I constantly wrestle with how we cannot be a church that just gathers on Sundays to sing songs together and then leave, thinking we’re all living the Christian life. I also wrestle with how to mobilize all these people in a country where Christianity is rapidly declining.

Missional communities are the main thrust of how we are attempting to do this. We are taking our people and challenging them to live incarnationally for the Gospel in their context.

We used to have community groups, smaller groups of people living in community together. It was to make sure no one was getting lost in the big crowd of a Sunday service, get people connected. We saw these groups turning into small group Bible studies, with chips and dips. Which is great, but that’s all they were.

So, we challenged, trained and equipped our small group leaders to turn to their groups and challenge, train and equip them. We challenged the groups to come together to live radically on mission together. To be the church. To live incarnationally, to live missionally, together in their neighborhoods and work places.

Its been a really slow, multi-year process. But we’re beginning to see progress, and we’ve been blown away at what’s been happening.

Transitioning to Missional Community

Three things we did to transition between small groups and missional communities:

1. Change the definition of success for your small groups.

You’re going to have 33 percent who will take to it immediately, 33 percent that won’t understand it, and another 33 percent who won’t want to do it and will tell you no.

Continue to have them gather and do a Bible study. But look to see if they have moved beyond that. Has the group found a place, or group of people, that is far from God, in the city, where they are engaging missionally and incarnationally for the sake of the Gospel and the name of Jesus Christ?

That is the new definition of success.

Are they still getting community? Yes. There is nothing on the planet that fosters deep community better than mission. When we aimed for community, we got neither community or mission. But when we aimed for mission, we got both.

2. Change how you’re training and discipling your small group leaders.

We are training them like missionaries. We had to change the mindset of American, come-to-church-on-Sundays, consumers to being missionaries.

That starts with teaching them how to feed themselves. If you’re an American Christian, you can get by with just sitting in the pew, being fed. But if you’re a missionary in the Sudan, you better know how to listen to the Holy Spirit of God yourself and know how He leads you or you’re going to be ineffective.

We’re also training them in as much theology and ministry practice as we can. So, if God leads their group to leave and do their own thing, they’re equipped to do it.

This is happening and it’s beautiful. It’s cool to watch a group step out on their own, try something crazy and start their own home church in their apartment complex.

3. Raise the bar on what your groups can do.

The people in your church can do more than you have ever dreamed if you would just challenge them and give them a chance to do it.

One of our leaders was a senior vice president at one of the largest companies in Austin. He made lots of money, lived in an unbelievable house in the nicest part of Austin. He started hearing the message about living on mission, giving his life away, getting in the fight and using the gifts that God gave him. He started believing that the power of the resurrection actually lived inside him.

He sold his house and bought several houses side-by-side in the under-resourced neighborhood where our church works. He and his wife moved into one of them. Single moms have occupied the other houses. He and his wife started a missional community who train, equip, educate and love on these single moms. He’s changing that neighborhood. People are coming to Christ. It’s just awesome.

If we had never challenged him or raised the bar or released him to use his money, time and giftings outside of the four walls of our church, there is a good chance that he would have spent the rest of his life sitting in the pews of our sanctuary, listening to sermons, singing songs and would die, going straight to heaven. Having never known the thrill of getting in the fight for the purpose and name of Jesus Christ.

Your people are more hungry than you ever dreamed. Challenge them, train them and then release them to give their lives away. Not just to come to church, but to be the church.

Matt Carter
Matt Carter serves as the Pastor of Preaching and Vision of The Austin Stone Community Church, which has grown from a core team of 15 people to more than 7,000 Sunday attendees since the church began in 2002. He desires to see the church become an advocate for the welfare of the city of Austin has led to the creation of a network that exists to actively pursue the redemption and renewal of the city for the advancement of the gospel. The For the City Network provides a platform for organizational collaboration by offering physical space to local nonprofits and creating a funnel for volunteer engagement. In addition to pastoring at The Austin Stone, Matt is a cancer survivor, co-author of For the City, Creation Unraveled: The Gospel According to Genesis, and The Real Win (with NFL Quarterback Colt McCoy). Matt is also an active speaker for camps and conferences nationwide. He holds a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt is married to Jennifer, and they have three children.