Chris raised a good point in response to a previous post, that it is foolish to assume that if we all just do outreach together, real community will form. The opposite is also true; outreach doesn't naturally flow out of community. All that we are called to as the church has to be done with varying degrees of intention.
However, it is very difficult to instantly start doing all that the church ought. It takes time and energy to build towards being an authentic body of believers. Therefore, I would like to make the case that it is better to start with a sense of mission than it is to start with a sense of community. In other words, I believe community flows out of mission. Otherwise, all you are left with is affinity. This idea, that community is formed out of a common mission, is what sociologists call the principle of the "superordinate goal." A shared overarching goal requires cooperative effort. And this cooperative effort begins to override people's differences and creates a new sort of affinity--one shaped by the superordinate goal...
I have to confess to being doubleminded. I have experienced much of my Christian life going around and around, it seems, from mission to community and then from community back to mission. I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be intentionality about both. But on the question of which one to start with, I have seen both "work" and also "not work."
I have seen (and been involved with) a church that started with authentic community as the superordinate goal and then, out of frustration and desire, transition to effective mission. This is not easy, but it can be done. Obviously, there are also many examples of groups that never make this transition.
On the other hand, there is no question that a group with a missional thrust can transition to authentic community. However, this is not a given either. In fact, I find that the type of community that forms around a goal often develops into pseudo-community that lacks the true depth of authenticity and vulnerability. Again, intentionality is required to transition a "mission group" into "community."
In a sense, I'm saying there is no right way to start. The struggle to do both mission and community is at the heart of every living Kingdom group. I believe that if we are effectively pursuing both there will be a pendulum swing from one side to another. As long as the pendulum continues to swing, this may be as healthy as we can expect.
When I wrote the post, "Too Much Focus On the Gatherings," I was, in part, reacting to the frustration of myself and others in our churches that the pendulum has swung to the side of community and our hearts are now crying out for more mission.
Thanks to Van S for his thoughts.