What is Soma’s origin story?
Soma began as one church of missional communities called Soma Communities in Tacoma, Washington. Multiplication and decentralized language was there from the start. Word got out that this innovative church was equipping and mobilizing everyday disciples to make disciples. Leaders from all over the country and the world began requesting opportunities to come see and learn from Soma. Acts 29 began requiring church planting candidates who were weaker in everyday mission to attend training with us. Hosting leaders soon became too frequent and cumbersome, so the leaders of Soma decided to batch leaders into an experience they called Soma School.
Soma School was a seven-day immersive experience where participants were able to live in a missional community (MC) composed of everyday disciples on mission. The staff from Soma white-boarded the theological vision during the day and participants joined the MC in life and mission during the nights and weekends.
Having been influenced by Soma, like-minded church planters began to plant churches of MCs in their own contexts. These MC practitioners soon desired deeper learning opportunities with Soma. This need gave rise to Soma 201, a mutual learning environment for churches actively making disciples in MCs. At one such training in November of 2010, all of the leaders prayerfully decided to form a family of churches. The Soma family began. The early days consisted of a working board of leaders from various cities volunteering time to coordinate our work collectively. Soma’s mission was to make disciples, strengthen one another, and plant churches of MCs with the goal of gospel saturation. We’ve been at it ever since.
Where are you today and what does it look like on the ground?
Soma comprises over 80 churches in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Eastern Europe.
We’ve seen gospel saturation advance with:
- Over 1,700 leaders, from dozens of countries, trained at Soma Schools.
- Thousands of gospel conversations and hundreds of baptisms
- Thousands of disciples growing up into greater maturity in Christ
- 35 church planters trained through a two-year church planting residency and dozens of churches of MCs planted
- Hundreds of leaders equipped and over 600 MCs sent to reach diverse people groups in urban, suburban and rural areas. (domestic and international)
- Strong Areas, which are clusters of Soma Churches in a region who are committed to connection, multiplication, strengthening of each church, leader health, and prayer. Our decentralized family consists of seven Strong Areas in North America: The Pacific Northwest, The West, South Central, Midwest, Southeast, Northeast, and Mexico.
- Emerging Soma Global Areas (watch this Explainer Video) advancing gospel saturation in places like Australia, Japan, Slovakia, Romania, and Sierra Leone. These Strong Areas are led by an Apostolic Area Team consisting of APEST Equippers, Gospel Patrons, and Intercessors.
- Familia Soma (watch this Video to learn more), the full expression of Soma in Latin contexts, is currently planting a platform church in Queretaro, Mexico, to set the stage for multiplication for the region.
- Thousands of partners and friends utilizing our content at Saturatetheworld.com since 2015. We have been primarily focused on gospel fluency and equipping everyday disciples to make disciples.
- Churches that come together in key cities to establish gospel hubs like Saturate the Sound (Seattle, WA) and Mission Charleston (Charleston, SC).
- Strong Leader, an initiative that cultivates healthy leaders for the long-haul because our churches cannot be healthier than our leaders. This leader initiative forms leaders holistically in the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.
- Strong Church, a 15-module “flip-classroom experience” that serves as a holistic audit and action plan for helping each church get stronger every year. This strategic pause gives leaders the opportunity to “work on the church” recognizing most of the week-to-week pressure is to “work in the church” or to simply “pull off Sunday.” This serves as the onboarding process for churches desiring to be adopted into the Soma Family.
How do you train disciples?
Soma Churches are committed to making disciples in missional communities, because disciples of Jesus increasingly submit to him in all of their lives, and as they spend time with Jesus, become like Jesus and learn to do what Jesus did in everyday life.
Missional Communities create an environment that is:
Life-on-life. Being together everyday allows for visibility and accessibility. We see each other’s lives in the everyday stuff, so that people know what it looks like to follow Jesus in all of life. With familiarity and accountability we are able to assess and encourage growth in discipleship.
Life-in-community. One-on-one discipleship leads to a disciple looking like the one who discipled them. Community discipleship will lead to disciples looking more like Jesus as they work through the diverse people and gifts in the Church.
Life-on-mission. Mission reveals areas of life that need repentance and ensures we are equipping people to make disciples who make disciples in everyday life.
What repeated principles have you seen emerge in your network?
Being before Doing. The Church is the people of God, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes in this world. We follow the logical flow of the gospel by answering the following four questions from the Scriptures:
- Who is God? (Being)
- What has God done? (In Christ) (Doing)
- Who are we? (The Church) (Being)
- How should we live? (Doxology and Missiology) (Doing)
The first three questions are biblical indicatives (or statements of fact). The fourth question consists of biblical imperatives that identify God’s intent or commands for his Church.
We don’t go to church; we are the Church. This is semantic and it’s ontological. Once an MC becomes convinced of this, they’re on the right track with the right worldview to support a life of worship and discipleship.
God’s leadership qualifications shouldn’t be trifled with. A church who disregards any of the character qualifications in the pastoral epistles is like a monkey ripping parts out of a car engine. “Pugnacious—what does that even mean? I am sure we’re good without that one.” Wrong. “Hospitable? I’m an elder but my wife won’t let people come into our house.” Death to mission. “Able to teach? But this elder candidate is such a strategic thinker.” These omissions are bad ideas.
Living in the faithful tension between Up – In – Out. As discipleship environments, if we maintain a faithful tension between gospel/scriptural truth, connected community, spiritual disciplines, accountability, and mission, then we see the fruitful advance of the gospel. This looks like evangelism and edification, new believers coming to trust in Jesus, and maturing believers being conformed to the image of Christ.
What have been your most difficult moments?
Suicide. We’ve seen the suicide of one of our beloved pastors. We talk about that in this Saturate Podcast episode.
Leadership rifts. The Apostle Paul split with Barnabas over the John Mark situation (Acts 15:36-41). We’ve seen sin, ministry disagreements, and conflicts create divides between brothers and sisters. We grieve each one of these and yet they seem inevitable in life and in ministry. The gospel has made reconciliation possible in each situation and we pray we see this again and again.
The current cultural moment in America. The COVID-19 financial fallout is real. Political polarization is pervasive. We’ve seen a church go from 1,000 to 250 with people moving out of state or leaving over political polarization. We see issues of race, gender and sexuality destabilizing churches and leading to new divisions.
Where are you headed?
We are doubling down on our Soma distinctives while learning from others. While we’ve trained on multiple fronts over the years we are coming to realize there have been gaps. We are currently working on a more thorough Missionary Pathway for our churches and are strengthening our Apostolic Strong Areas. We’re having an ongoing conversation about some forgotten ways from Soma Tacoma (2003-2010) that need to be reconsidered. We’re coming to some new learnings from The KC Underground as they are executing Soma-like principles in a beautiful and fruitful way in Kansas City. (Read The Soma Distinctives.)
Investing time and resources into our “Capacity Builders” to extend the work by:
- Building bigger, more diverse, area-specific apostolic teams focused on planting and strengthening churches.
- We continue to decentralize the staff Servant Leadership Team to be even more localized to the apostolic spheres where God has established us.
- We seek to hire more regional leadership, which aims to strengthen our face-to-face connection.
- We work in collaboration with To Every Tribe (TET), a global missions agency that excels in training for apostolic regions in the area of church planting.
- We hope to mobilize local Soma churches with even more fruitfulness, as we train proven disciple makers that can be sent in teams to plant churches which will partner to reach regions.
- Prioritizing Kingdom collaboration with strategic partners.
- The Soma Family of Churches is committed to the pursuit of gospel saturation in North America and beyond until we see every man, woman, and child have a daily encounter with Jesus in word and deed. We believe the local church is God’s means for bringing this about.
- We see God’s heart for unity in the church when we observe Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and we are committed to press into God’s desires.
- We observe the Apostle Paul’s “concern for all the churches,” that is evident in both the content and tone of his letters. We recognize this global concern was a powerful force used by God in building the early Church.
- We recognize that it is good to care about all of God’s church and not just our church or family of churches. Gospel saturation is too big for any one church or family of churches to tackle. This is why we eagerly pursue collaboration with other like-minded partner churches, networks, ministries, non-profits and individuals.
We partner with the following organizations:
The Eden Project. Expanding the reach of Strong Leader, as a more robust leadership formation reality for Soma Churches and Saturate Partners and Friends. We are developing offerings for leaders in ministry, business, military, and professional athletics. This partnership is increasing our capacity to invest in holistic leader formation.
To Every Tribe. We are partnering with TET for church planter assessments, overseas mission sending and apostolic church planting training with our Apostolic Areas in North America and internationally. This partnership is increasing our capacity for effective church planting and cross cultural mission.
Generous Giving. We are partnering in training of gospel-centered generosity through their Journey of Generosity (JoG) experience. We are aiming to see 70% of all Soma MCs experience a JoG over the next 24 months. This experience is growing our hearts to invest more in God’s mission.
The KC Underground. Soma leaders have participated with the KC Underground HUB Cohort to equip leaders to break through the three-to-five-MC threshold. We also partner in the Microchurch Conference and will continue to look for opportunities to equip more leaders and churches in decentralized, everyday discipleship and church planting.
How can we pray for the Soma Family of Churches?
- That we grow deeper in the experience of the love of God (Eph 3:18-21)
- For laborers sent to the harvest (Matt 9:37)
- That God will bring many sons and daughters to glory through our missional communities (Heb 2:10)
- That our Father would keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil (Matt 6:13)