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An Interview with Rich Robinson – What is the secret to Missional Communities?

23 September 2012

This week I have the joy of interviewing someone who is involved with leading something that is revolutionizing the church in the UK…missional communities! The rest of us are just cottoning on to it but these guys have been doing it for ages. I’ve met Rich a number of times now and had him speak at my previous church and he is incredibly warm, humble and insightful. Our hope as we head off on our adventure is that we become a ‘network of missional communities scattered throughout Dublin’, so I hope you enjoy what he has to say.

(1) Hi Rich, tell us who you are, what you do & your most favourite thing about Dublin?
I’m Rich Robinson, married to Anna with three wonderful children – Josiah, Esther and Samuel. I came to faith as a student in Sheffield and have been at Network Church Sheffield ever since, as a member and then as a staff member. I currently have two roles. My local role is overseeing leadership development and missional communities at Network Church Sheffield – we have over 200 lay leaders and 120 missional communities living out their faith as missional disciples across Sheffield. I am also a leader of 3dm UK. This is part of the global 3DM ministry working to empower Christian leaders and churches to engage with discipleship and mission. We work with numerous leaders and churches to deliver Content, Coaching and Learning Communities. I’ve only been to Dublin as a teenager (pre-Christian days) on a rugby tour so my favourite thing was Guinness!

(2) Who have been your inspirations growing up and who do you enjoying reading?
My Gran, who is now into her nineties and has been a Christian for over 85 years. She flew on Concord for her 80th birthday, is an active member of the local church, makes cards to raise money for orphanages in Romania and regularly visited them up until a few years ago – she’s a real giant of the faith! Mike Breen, who is the former leader of the Sheffield church and now global team leader of 3DM. I love to read his books and his new one, Multiplying Missional Leaders, is especially insightful. I love Floyd McClung’s books too, especially Living on the Devil’s Doorstep – the first book I really connected with written about a missionary family (not just a couple or an individual). A story of a person and family that live a missional life but appreciate & respond to the season they are in. Clive Woodward is also an inspiration because he had such a high level of aspiration and the drive to create a winning culture and team and to scale the pinnacle of achievement in his sport (rugby) – his autobiography is a great read.

(3) St Thoms have been doing Missional Communities for around 15 years now. Tell us a bit about this journey, where you are at now and why missional communities are such a good idea?
Missional Communities – extended families of 15-40 people with a common missional vision – are a great vehicle to see people empowered, stretched and released as well as neighbourhoods and networks transformed but you HAVE to have a discipling culture as the foundation. The 15 years have been about equipping the church, and every individual, to ask 2 key questions: What is God saying to me? and What am I going to do about it? As people in our church have asked these two key questions they have become more mature disciples with a closer walk with Jesus themselves as well as people who make disciples. Answering these questions has developed them into leaders who take personal responsibility for discipleship and mission and gather people around a missional vision – and Missional Communities are born! We have had 15 years of innovation and experimentation – learning (often from failure) and sharpening what missional communities look like and the key principles for their health and growth – and this is what we will continue to do. There are now missional communities reaching many different and diverse people groups and neighbourhoods – poor & rich, single mums and families, young and old, urban and suburban, young adult creatives and mature businessmen – if it exists in our city someone is probably trying to live out the good news there!

(4) How do you hold the balance of the ‘big sunday service’ whilst emphasising that the heart of the church are the Missional Communities. How do you pull off the ‘both/and’ approach and how do you stop Sundays becoming the focus?
We talk about ‘orbits’ – where Missional Communities orbit on a fortnightly or monthly pattern in and out of a strong centre which resources, supports, equips, trains, gathers, celebrates and sends out missional communities. Sunday gatherings are one part of this strong centre. A strong heart beat that supplies the hands & feet of Jesus across the city. Communication is really important – talking over and over again about Missional Communities being the primary place of belonging, community, discipleship and mission. We also make a point of sharing testimonies from Missional Communities on a regular basis. We also invest our time in leaders and celebrate them – what you invest in and celebrate soon strengthens and become a focus.

(5) How do you train new leaders and how do you ensure that everyone is singing off the same song sheet – in terms of vision, values and (general) theological convictions?
In the same way that everyone is a disciple who makes disciples, we encourage all of our leaders to raise new leaders so a lot of this happens in and through Missional Community. We have regular training events, huddles (groups of 6-9 leaders who meet regularly around character & competency for discipleship & leadership) and ongoing coaching for all our Missional Community leaders and new people go through this as well. They also have access to our leaders’ website and resources.
We speak on & about our vision and key values frequently during Sunday services and have resources on these which Missional Communities can use for their own discipleship.

(6) Tell us about the Up/In/Out model, why is this so important and effective?
This is the principle of living a 3-dimensional life modelled on the life of Jesus in the gospels and found in the Greatest Commandments and the Great Commission:

  • UP to God (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, personal faith & devotion)
  • IN to our Christian family (Love your neighbour as yourself, engage in community)
  • OUT to the world (Go and make disciples of all nations, live a life of sacrificial love & good news)

It’s a simple tool to help us live like Jesus lived. Living a balanced life with all three dimensions helps us to grow in discipleship and mission. It’s simple but hard (like the gospel)!!!

(7) What are your hopes for St Thoms and 3dm in the next few years?
Our vision as a church is “Calling a city back to God” and I’d love to see this happen as more and more people live 3-dimensional lives – being deepened in discipleship and stretched in mission both as individuals and as communities. That we would see many people saved & transformed, society and culture with biblical values, the poor and young invested in and the city transformed!
As 3dm we want to create a discipleship revolution and to catalyse a missional movement. We aim to continue to equip churches and leaders to grow a discipling culture and release missional leaders so that communities, cities and nations can be transformed by God.

You can follow Rich @RichR_3dmUK & do visit

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