Should We Prioritize Place or People Groups?

Many start down the road of desiring to be a missional community (MC), but one of the first things they ask is simply… ”Who should we reach?” There are two modes of thought in this: People Groups

  • This could be certain religious groups (i.e. Muslims), ethnic  groups or a local elementary school. The idea is that many can come together, regardless of where they live and be part of the mission in a certain context.


  • Where do you live? Where do you work? These are the places you are already at and don’t really get a “choice” of being there.

Now, I am not going to be dogmatic of which one you should choose, because I believe we have examples of each in the Scriptures. Paul definitely prioritized people groups and the local churches in the cities were prioritizing place. I think both are important. I do believe there is a better way to start in your journey of living out the mission of God through missional communities.

Prioritizing Place

I believe that this is the best way to start off missional communities in your current church or as you desire to plant the gospel in an area. Notice I said plant the gospel, as I believe that is what we are called to do, but be expectant that the church will grow out of that seed planted through the power of the Spirit.

Here are some quick bullet points why I believe prioritizing place is a good place to start.

1.    Paradigm Shift

For most, missional communities are a complete paradigm shift. They are shifting from going to church to being the church in the everyday.  Don’t get all up in arms thinking I am trying to downplay the gathering on a Sunday. The point is that most people only see church as a building that sits empty 6 days and 22 hours a week and then is magically transformed into the “sanctuary” where God dwells when we greet people, drink coffee and sing love ballads to him.  (Another article could be written on how we structure the Sunday gathering so it equips the MCs instead of being seemingly a total separate entity all together)

Because of this shift, we need to lead people in the shift and show them the difference instead of merely talking about it.  When we talk about MCs not being event driven we need to give that to our people. When you are prioritizing place, it gives the chance for people to live among their neighbors (or co-workers) with the intention of showing and speaking the good news. It is easier for them to grasp what we mean by natural rhythms of life if we allow them to actually live that out where they already are at.

In those that prioritize a people group, this will add something to their life if they are not already involved. As an example. If you decide that the local elementary school is going to be the context in which you focus, then there will be meetings to go to, events to plan and things not in your everyday that will be added to your life.

This will seem like a stretch for many just starting out and will be hard for them to see much of a paradigm shift, but will more than likely seem like a focus shift instead. Many will show up to the events and things scheduled, but will remain hard pressed to live life on life with the MC or those they are called to.

I am not saying this has to happen in a people group focus, but I am saying it is far easier to happen when people are just starting out in this new shift.

2.    The Everyday

When you prioritize place, mission happens every day. Events don’t have to take place, schedules can be much less rigid, and you’ll notice life on life just happens.

When you start to see your neighbors as image bearers that need to hear and see Jesus and the effects of His gospel, you’ll get to know your neighbors very easily and purposefully. What you’ll notice is that the mission will happen by just being outside, or hanging out where the neighborhood hangs out. (This largely depends on the neighborhood you live in, whether urban or suburban)

Those just starting out will quickly realize why you can’t have church programs, because their lives will be so intertwined with their neighbors’ lives. Dinners, playdates, or merely hanging out -  people quickly realize what the mission looks like when you can actually live it in rhythm instead of in programs. They’ll see that it happens “on accident” when they take out their garbage and the neighbor next door engages them in conversation. They’ll see that if they get angry at a neighbor, they’ll have to ask, “How should I respond as a follower of Jesus?” In a people group context, you can just decide to stop going to that group (many new to the MC understanding will think this anyways). In your neighborhood, you’re stuck unless you pack up and move. It requires some serious thought on holistic living that everyone will see.

So now, instead of only seeing people during events, you see them all the time as your life is full of interruptions, not merely planned meeting times.

Not only this, but if you have neighbors who are in your MC, it makes it far easier to live as family in the everyday. Most of the time, when prioritizing people groups, people are spread out and it makes it very difficult to live as family in the everyday. Most of the time, you only see your MC at meetings or at planned events. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you have to be very purposeful on being family or it will slip into event time as though the MC were distant cousins. Again, this isn’t impossible to do, but we must think through this for those new to the MC understanding.

3.  Transferable

I highly recommend that the first thing an MC does when they prioritize place is to simply start having meals with not-yet believers. Make it a goal for everyone to have at least two meals a month (out of 84) with a not-yet believer. When you come back together for the MC meeting, take time to pray and share about the people that you are engaging and living life with and then ask the Spirit what’s next for each of those people you had dinner with. This will show the paradigm shift in full effect.

Not only that, but think through this. If you desire to multiply MCs, how hard is it for someone to multiply when they see the simplicity of merely eating with outsiders of the faith? We’ve noticed how easy it is to have meals with people that are in our neighborhood. They are going to eat, they just have to walk over. That’s a far cry if you decided to prioritize a people group, let’s say an elementary school, and now the group wants to multiply but has to figure out which school, how to lead tutoring groups, lead events, etc. I’m not saying these things shouldn’t happen, or don’t happen, but when starting new MCs, prioritizing place makes it very easy to transfer that to new leaders and new MCs. This is something I’ve been thinking through with my MCs lately as I don’t want to prioritize events in the place that I live. Back to basics.

Not only does it make it very easy to transfer, but also think of those that the Spirit regenerates. Remember that they are being discipled on what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus.  So, if they see a group of people, sharing life on life in the everyday, what do you think they think a follower of Jesus does? Does this make it easier for them to not only understand what following Jesus entails, but then also lead others in this?

4.    The Power of the Spirit

I almost end all my articles with this: we must believe that this is the Spirit’s work. We plant the good news and the Spirit regenerates souls and grows churches from the seeds we’ve planted. We must continually ask the Spirit who he desires for us to reach and how he’d desire for us to do that.

We must be asking the Spirit what is next for us. Listen to what he says. Then do it. Then we push repeat until we die.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

Acts 17:24-27

The Spirit has placed us where he wants us to be. I actually think the last part when he states, “yet he is actually not far from each one of us” can be alluding, partly, to his church. The Spirit will direct our steps so that people that are seeking God will find him through the church that is living right next to them. The Spirit usually starts us off small, then keeps pressing.  It might start with dinners and it might lead to being on the City Council. I’m not sure. The Spirit might start us with dinners and then move us across the world to do the same thing. He might start us with dinners, and then move us on to the local school, religious group, etc.

The point is that it is the Spirit’s work, not ours. Let’s make it as easy as possible for people to understand this paradigm shift of being the church so the Spirit can take that seed and make it grow in our people.

I have seen amazing things come through missional communities by the power of the Spirit. The problem is that many of us have these big stories of what God is doing and many don’t realize we started off small and basic.

I started off by asking the Spirit, “What’s next?” and he told me to move my BBQ from my back yard to my front yard so that it was easier to have an “open door” for my neighbors to join us and be part of our lives. From that, he has my family leading a group of leaders, seeing things multiply and probably moving to another state to do it all over again. But the Spirit knew me. He knew how to take me along. He didn’t start by having me move to another state, but doing something very simple.

We are called to be a living sacrifice, but notice that we aren’t told how that is to happen for everyone.

I believe what this means is to yield our lives to the Spirit, ask him what’s next, listen, then do it. Whatever it is. He loves us. He knows us. He’ll guide us. He’ll empower us.

Know that I am not trying to say one is better than the other when it comes to prioritizing our context. Plus, the same “busyness” and event-driven life can happen when prioritizing place. What I do believe though is that it is easier to start off simply and holistically when prioritizing place, then, from there allow the Spirit to keep pressing into us to show off who he is.


Cross-posted from GCM Collective.