Microchurch Leaders: Who can lead and how do they emerge?

May 5, 2022

A young, bubbly woman came into our network’s missionary hub one day. She seemed like a free-spirited, high energy, positive person, maybe even a little aloof or scattered. As she sat down with one of our experienced microchurch leaders and coaches, he invited her to share what God was putting on her heart.   With a lot of excitement and conviction she went on to tell him that she wanted to hula hoop for Jesus. It was the kind of idea that makes you wrinkle your forehead and wonder if it’s serious. The kind of idea that tempts you to question if this person is the right kind of person to lead a microchurch.   

The coach leaned in and explained that we help people who want to be the church, that overlapping place of worship and community and mission and he asked her if she imagined being the church through hula hoops. With a huge smile she said, “Yes! I want it to be the church”.  He went on to talk about our core Kingdom values and our leadership covenants and asked “is this the kind of life you want to live as a Kingdom leader?”. “Yes! When I read these values I wept.” She went on to talk about her vision of seeing hoops used to share the truths of the gospel and to be a symbol of child-like freedom and restoration for kids rescued from trafficking and asked if we could help her.  

There were many reasons to say ‘no’ to this woman, but our conviction that God calls all kinds of leaders to all kinds of Kingdom mission disciplined us to say ‘yes’.  Over the next 10 years she went on to start chapters of Hula for Happiness in countries around the world alongside organizations rescuing children from trafficking. They shared the gospel with over 5000 kids and began the work of learning how to disciple young people into the ways of Jesus. There were many reasons to say ‘no’, and we would have been wrong.

When God is the One Sending

Jesus calls people who seem like unlikely leaders to us into all kinds of creative expressions of the church. Anyone can lead a microchurch if God is the one sending them.

From middle schoolers among their classmates, to families and single people in their neighborhoods, from victim survivors among addicts and women in the sex industry, to professionals in places of business. Wherever Jesus is at work calling people into his mission, microchurch leaders can emerge.

What Part Can We Play In Seeing Leaders Emerge?

So if God calls such diverse kinds of people to lead microchurches, what part can we play in seeing leaders emerge and take brave Kingdom risks in response to Jesus?

In 2017, Highland Solutions in partnership with Thrivent did a small research project in our microchurch network to understand the journey of becoming a persevering microchurch leader. They interviewed microchurch leaders from diverse cultural backgrounds, different age groups, married and single who led diverse expressions of microchurch. Then, we studied the narratives from those interviews to see what commonalities might exist in their missionary journeys.

Even though the spiritual journey of every microchurch leader is unique and dynamic, the study did reveal commonalities. We discovered a pattern of milestones rather than a pipeline of development. This pattern leads people into calling, Kingdom risk, starting, and leading persevering microchurches. 

We also noticed the main ‘actor’ was God himself bringing conviction, calling, transformation, and results. The environment around each leader augmented the Spirit’s work but was no guarantee or substitute. This shifted our thinking to understand ourselves as cultivators of a missional ecosystem where the major milestones of the missionary journey can happen and every day believers can emerge as microchurch leaders.

Here’s a quick look at some milestones in the missionary journey and how we can begin to come alongside everyday people to see them emerge as persevering microchurch leaders.

Milestones in the Journey

Altar Moments 

What is it? Romans 12 type altar moments define the early stage of the missionary journey. We find ourselves before Jesus, putting our lives on the altar to be burnt up for his purposes. We get more serious about listening to Jesus and obeying what we hear. Altar moments are usually marked by Jesus disrupting our status quo faith or some pattern of the world he wants us to relinquish for the ways of the Kingdom.  

Examples.  One leader described leaving behind ‘faith as spectacle’ to learn how to be the church. Another described Jesus leading him  to mend his marriage. Others left behind addictions, moved to new neighborhoods, started asking Jesus to show them how to use their money for the Kingdom, or they began to integrate their Kingdom values into the way they practiced their vocations.

What’s our part? We can’t make choices for people, but Romans 12 gives us a good framework for how we can help usher everyday believers into important altar moments. Do not conform.  Identify what “patterns” tempt us to conform to (status quo faith, prevailing worldviews, idols).  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Let Jesus challenge our beliefs and actions with his teachings.  Climb up on the altar and repent. Put those misaligned beliefs and ways of living up on the altar to be consumed so we can learn the way of Jesus.  

Questions to Wrestle With

  • What core idols, misaligned beliefs, status quo faith views exist in my demographic or microchurch?
  • How is Jesus challenging our beliefs in light of his ways? What scripture is he using?
  • What disruptive experience can we give our microchurch to help them wrestle with “patterns of the world”?
  • As we listen to Jesus, what is he asking us to do this week in light of what he is teaching us?

Threshold of Suffering

What is it?  Every microchurch leader in the study described defining encounters they had either with pain in their own life or with suffering in the world. These experiences unsettle growing disciples, taking them to the edge of what they understand about the Kingdom and God’s heart. These are the places where we encounter the poor, the lost, the broken. We find ourselves asking God if he sees? Does he care? How is he present in this place of brokenness or injustice? What are his purposes in this place of suffering?

Examples.  One leader encounters street children in the slums of Manila and is brought low by the flood of grief over orphans. Another leader meets a man living in the alley behind his home and grows angry over the injustice of image bearers living in such devastating circumstances and treated with such a lack of dignity because of it. Still others see the poverty of isolation in their neighborhoods or the overwhelming task of single parents without support systems, or the marginalization of incarcerated people. God begins to break their hearts and invite them to see how the Kingdom is good news, right now, to a broken and dying world. 

What’s our part?  We can’t engineer what God will do or how people will respond but we can help create environments for people to have important threshold experiences. These experiences can happen in organic ways or more organized ways.  From intentional conversations around a fire pit or a meal to taking groups to learn from the very poor in our cities and the world. From designing listening/intercessory prayer rooms around injustice and suffering in the world to taking our microchurches out to sleep rough one night and debrief the heart of God for people living in the margins of our communities.  

Start with looking at a few places of pain in your city.  Most cities have one or two obvious and egregious places of suffering. They can become like white noise to those who live in the city but when visitors come, they notice right away. For Tampa, it’s the sex industry and probably the large homeless community. 

Questions to Wrestle With

  • What are the places of suffering in my city?
  • What assumptions do we have about those communities that need to be disrupted by God?
  • How can I give emerging leaders in my community an encounter with God’s heart in places of suffering?
  • What next step is Jesus asking us to take to serve and ‘suffer with’?


What is it? What often flows out of encounters with suffering and places of need is some kind of vertical, intimate touch from God when emerging leaders hear him sending them to a particular place or people. Calling can be stirred up in many ways; through conversation with another leader, noticing a need that resonates with us somehow, a team inviting us to join them, or straight out of worship or time in the word. No matter how the idea is initiated, there is usually a personal encounter with Jesus in prayer that confirms a sense of what God is doing.  

Examples.  One leader described this experience as a kind of haunting. Another described that calling moment like an idea from the Lord that wouldn’t leave her alone or let her sleep until she began to take steps toward it. Still another leader just commented, “this idea must be from God, it definitely didn’t come from me!”.

What’s our part? Our work in the calling process has more to do with creating spaces for prayer and listening. Creating places where we can raise the calling question and help people try to hear God.  Part of our work is also affirming and giving permission for people to step out in faith, even if they might fail. Again, these experiences can be very organic or they can be more organized. It might be a conversation over a meal, in the context of a microchurch, creating prayer retreat days or running calling labs. The main question is, how do we normalize asking the calling question in our missional ecosystem?

Questions to Wrestle With

  • How can our network or church more intentionally talk about calling and help people listen to God?
  • How can I help emerging leaders incubate their ideas (outreach risks with debrief and support) as part of discerning calling?
  • What stories can we tell to increase people’s imagination and invite them to own their place in God’s Kingdom work?
  • How can we offer simple, effective coaching to those who want to step out in faith?

Starting Something

What is it? Every leader has to take a step of faith and start, experiment and practice. Leaders need to try and fail and then try again to take steps of obedience to be the church Jesus is asking them to be.

What’s our part? We can help by offering services to help microchurch leaders: for example coaching & equipping.

Questions to Wrestle With

  • How can we offer simple, effective coaching to those who want to step out in faith?
  • How can I celebrate missional experiments, even when they fail?  What stories am I telling?
  • What principle based equipping (able to be contextualized) can I offer leaders attempting diverse kinds of mission?

Persevering in Mission

What is it?  Eventually, every leader wants to quit. Anyone who has ever taken a risk to start a new Kingdom initiative and serve people sacrificially has at some point, probably more than once, wanted to walk away. The work is harder than they expected. They realize they know way less than they thought they did when they first started. Maybe they experience betrayal, or persistent lack of resources or just get in touch with the reality that we cannot actually create any lasting transformation in the places that God calls us to. Only God can. Something happens in the crucible of missionary leadership that brings us to the end of ourselves. Our strength, our good ideas, our strategies and pipelines start to fail us.  

Example.  A strong apostolic leader serving the homeless community hit the wall and told us he wanted  to burn it all to the ground in the first few years of trying to start his microchurch. But nearly 15 years later his team has a multifaceted microchurch that helps provide transportation for people living on the streets! They run a bike shop, a mobile fresh food market, organize neighborhood bike rides to develop community, run a community garden and are experimenting with how to build healthier communities through sustainable food systems all in the name of Jesus.

Facing challenges and wanting to quit doesn’t necessarily mean a person isn’t called. We have found that leaders in this part of the journey need two things.  

What’s our part? They need a community of missionary peers who can commiserate in the struggles, pray with them,  give encouragement and urge them to keep going. The other thing they need is to reconnect with that vertical moment of calling they had where Jesus said something personal to them. These two things have helped many unlikely leaders persevere in brave Kingdom work while also working full-time jobs and raising families. And often, if leaders persevere through the crossroads, they come out on the other side with a deeper prayer life, a greater dependence on the spirit of God and more resilience to endure hardship for the sake of those they serve.

Questions to Wrestle With

  • How can I gather and support a peer community of everyday missionaries in my network/church?
  • How can I help leaders mine their crossroads for learning and encourage them to keep going?
  • How can I help struggling microchurch leaders reconnect with their sense of call from God?
  • What resources might help struggling leaders pivot and try again?

There are many reasons to say ‘no’ to emerging microchurch leaders, but what if we bias towards ‘yes’ and then cultivate the environments needed to partner with the journey Jesus is taking missionaries on. It will not be perfect, but those ecosystems, microchurches and leaders will be His.

Stacy Gaskins

Stacy Gaskins

Stacy Gaskins is part of the Underground Network’s international planting team where her primary work is to equip movement leaders to plant missional hubs that will empower everyday missionaries in their cities. Locally she is part of a home-based microchurch and does mentoring, street and club outreach with Created — a microchurch to vulnerable women in the sex industry in Tampa, Florida. Stacy has been part of the Tampa Underground since it began 20 years ago and has served as a microchurch coach and Governing Elder. Previously, she served as the Regional Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA in the state of Florida, leading the staff team in planting student movements.
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