Breakout, by Mark Stibbe and Andrew Williams is the account of how a large charismatic evangelical church turned from being inward looking to outward looking. St. Andrew’s, Chorleywood (not a church I’ve ever visited) was by most accounts, successful, but they had reached saturation point with the ‘come to us’ method of evangelism. It was a consumer church. Congregants would come and enjoy the great worship and teaching, but, in general, were not plugged in to using their own gifts and creating their own ministries.
When a new vicar, Mark Stibbe, arrived and was closely followed by a new Associate Minister, Andrew Williams, the whole outlook of the church changed. Instead of meeting around one centralised worship event with anything up to 1000 people attending, they created Mid-Sized Communities (MSCs – later renamed Mission-Shaped Communities). These were groups of up to 50 people who met in a particular area or around a particular interest which could more easily serve the wider communities in which they were based. To quote an analogy which Stibbe and Williams use in the book, the church went from being an ocean liner, to being a group of smaller lifeboats, more easily able to change course and react to what is around.
There are better books to read which outline the theology and practicalities of smaller church groups which aim to reach the community. The fresh expressions literature has a lot of information and examples of new churches springing up in new contexts, and Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester (which I have talked about in depth before) covers all the necessary ingredients of reaching society with the gospel in contextually-appropriate ways without losing the clarity of the gospel message. There is also a book called Clusters, by Bob Hopkins and Mike Breen (which I haven’t read yet) which covers the same ground)
Breakout is still an interesting read as it tells the story of what can happen when one person with a clear vision communicates that vision clearly, gets people behind him, creates a clear strategy, listens to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and allows the spiritual gifts of the congregation to grow and be used. Although this example is in a charismatic church, there is no reason why churches of other persuasions cannot act on the call to spread the gospel in similar ways. The book does begin to meander and lose it’s way a little in the second half as the authors try to insert some theology into what is essentially a narrative, but it is still worth a read. You have to admire Mark Stibbe for his leadership and praise God for what he has done.