Learning Community, a way to boost collaboration! (Tom McGehee)

18 May 2017

In 2013 the CNEF had a vision to bring together different denominations from across all of France to collaborate with the vision of increasing the ratio of evangelical church plants in France from 1:30,000 to 1:10,000.

Transformation happens in circles not lines. That is, though conversations around tables, not sitting in rows or pews listing to training or preaching alone. To facilitate this type of interaction, they needed an approach that would guide conversations in a manner that allowed for separate and joint learning and application, builds ownership and accountability, and created greater unity and opportunity for cross-denominational work. The approach they decided to use to support this collaboration was that of a “learning community”.

The actual term (learning community) has been used since the 1960’s as a way of describing interactive, and experiential education. Today, the term is used to describe many different types of experiences.  For example, 3DM, a UK based discipleship ministry uses learning communities to help churches adopt its programs to improve discipleship.  M4, a European church planting process uses learning communities to support their training approach, and the European Church Planting Network used it to bring together different large churches in Europe to learn from one another.  Each of these organizations uses the term “learning community”, but the application is slightly different.  It is best to consider these three types of learning communities.

  • The first is when a group of churches come together to learn from one another, but each church separately carries out the implementation of what is learned. A Leadership Network LC is an example of this model.
  • The second is when a church or group of churches comes together around a single method to be adopted. 3DM and M4 have their own approach to what they do, and each uses an LC construct to help churches better understand and implement that specific approach.
  • The third is when teams within single church, group of ministries, organizations or denominations come together not only to learn from one another, but also to collaborate together to achieve greater results.

 This last description was the approach that the CNEF applied. They invited nine different denominations (do we list the participants?) to meet together for a series of facilitated sessions in Lyon meeting every six months over a period of three years. The facilitation approach they used to support these learning communities was called WaveChangeSM.

WaveChangeSM is a process of learning community-based transformation. It allowed for both innovative thinking, and detailed action planning. It integrated specific facts with emergent possibilities. The result was an amazing unity of spirit, development of action and collaboration for success.

With very different denominations came differences in not just theology, but in structure, and approach to both church planting, and decision-making. To overcome these differences the group began considering a united process for church planting. The intent was not to try to develop a single process, but to explore commonalities and differences.

In the first session the denominations were asked what they felt were the major obstacles to increasing church planting in France. The general answer was the lack of time, money and resources. As the denominations worked together to consider an overall approach the conversations allowed some much more specific and fundamental barriers to emerge. At the end of the initial session all participating denominations agreed that key barriers to church planting in France included:

  • Need to improve in disciple making
  • Need to better understand the culture
  • Need for innovative training models
  • Need for new funding models

Since these topics emerged directly form the work done by the participants themselves, all agreed that engaging in a learning community to address these topics both individually and collectively would help achieve the vision of 1:10,000.

Working through the different learning community sessions, the denominations addressed each of these topics. They also worked together to consider ways they could collaborate to help one another, and shared best practices that were already resident in the denominations to further everyone’s church planting activities.

The WaveChangeSM learning community approach was not accomplished in isolation. The CNEF spent a great deal of time and effort to build relationships, unity, excitement and trust to allow the process to be effective. People support what they help create. The CNEF provided the leadership to engage the right people in the right teams using the right process to create a powerful and unique work effort.