Micro-expression, Macro Impact: How Community Christian is Embracing Hybrid Church

Community Christian Church
was founded by Dave and Jon Ferguson in 1989 in the cafeteria of a Chicago area high school. Their dream: to help people find their way back to God. 32 years later, Community focuses on reaching people and restoring God’s vision around the globe.

They demonstrate what it looks like to be the Church in four distinct ways:  in-person, online, in prisons, and through micro-churches called 3C Communities.

Community holds in-person services at nine locations in the greater Chicago area, and in early 2020, they launched Community Online.  They’re also reaching incarcerated populations through Community Freedom, their initiative to plant churches inside prisons.

Recently, Community Christian developed and launched the fourth expression of their ministry: 3C Communities.

3C Communities are a smaller, full expression of Community Christian Church that take place in the areas where people live, work, and play. They’re a network of micro-churches devoted to mobilizing Christ-followers and expanding Community Christian’s current ministry model.

We sat down with their team to learn what their approach to Hybrid Church looks like, and their vision for a future that allows people to move seamlessly between digital and physical church experiences.

Made up of 16-50 people, 3C Communities meet online, in homes, and at local hangouts (in Chicago and around the world).

The three Cs stand for celebrate, connect, and contribute. Groups hold weekly services to celebrate what God is doing, connect in relationship throughout the week, and contribute by serving and giving back to God.

Think of each 3C Community as a house church, intimately connected to a broader movement of what God is doing through support, coaching, and resources from an established church body.

These micro-expressions stemmed from a desire to take the watch parties that many churches turned to during the pandemic to the next level. Community Christian leaders saw that watch parties had a high level of engagement, and they wanted to help people continue to build community.

High watch party engagement supported a theory that Community had been unpacking prior to the pandemic. Community knew people wanted to celebrate God in different ways, and they were trying to work out how to reach people that didn’t necessarily want a traditional church experience.

3C Communities were the solution. They allowed Community Christian to create a hyper-localized, highly relational model that didn’t have to look like a standard Sunday service.

Cultivating Community, Developing Leaders

Another need that propelled 3C Communities is Community Christian’s commitment to identifying, training, and sending out leaders. Community sees these micro-churches as an opportunity to develop bi-vocational pastors in their calling.

Data plays a huge role in identifying 3C leaders. The team at Community Christian analyzes a variety of attributes, from geography to previous involvement in a leadership role, to strategically pinpoint potential micro-church leaders.

Then, Community goes through a number of steps to see if there’s an alignment between what a candidate feels their calling is and what the leadership team sees in them. This includes an initial conversation, a variety of assessments, and a discussion about leadership expectations.

If the candidate and the church both feel like the potential leader is being called to serve their community as a micro-church pastor, then they begin the 14 week training process to become a 3C Community leader.

Training is designed to equip and empower leaders to pastor their 3C Community well.  Throughout the process, Community prioritizes making leaders feel supported by the greater Community Christian framework.

Community aims to completely resource 3C leaders so they don’t have to worry about logistics or content. Instead, they can focus on relationships and community building.

“You can do church in your living room, and we want to help you do that. We’ll give you all of the resources, you just get to love people.” Pat Nelson | Director Of Communications, Community Christian Church

One of the most effective things about these micro-expressions is that they allow 3C pastors to fully adapt and contextualize their approach to fit the community they’re serving, all while remaining connected to a larger organization.

Community refers to this as a high accountability, low control culture. For example, some 3C Communities watch Community Online for their services. In others, 3C pastors preach from an adaptable manuscript provided by the church. Each of the nine campus pastors also use the manuscript to craft their messages.

Community’s ongoing desire to pour into leaders has created a sort of ecosystem in which “apprentices” are repeatedly identified, trained, and released into their calling. The church’s vision is to equip hundreds of leaders to start 3C Communities around the world: dedicated to developing even more leaders in turn.

Changing Perspectives, Looking Ahead

Currently, Community has nine active 3C Communities, with another cohort set to release in early 2022. Groups meet across Chicago, in addition to gathering in Los Angeles, India, and Mexico.

As Community Christian looks to the future, they plan to continue to lean into a combination of in-person and online solutions for all four expressions of their ministry.

“As a location pastor, I’m concerned about how my physical location affects what’s happening online, how we’re affecting the prison system, and how we can develop and send people out to build 3C Communities. It’s impacted how I approach all of my roles. ” Rodrigo Cano | Community Pastor, Community Christian Church

While Community admits that they don’t have everything figured out yet, they’re leaning into the opportunities that this new hybrid territory offers.

Right now, that looks like bringing awareness to a hybrid approach for their team. Structurally and strategically, it’s been a huge shift. But the transition hasn’t been about changing people’s titles or expecting them to become tech wizards. It’s about leveraging the team’s gifts for the most impact—on Sundays and throughout the week.

Community Christian is embracing the “new normal”, rather than waiting for things to return to how they used to be. Their passion for equipping leaders, combined with their willingness to take risks, is already creating a global movement.

Want to learn more about 3C Communities? Visit communitychristian.org/lead.

Special thanks to Rodrigo Cano and Pat Nelson for taking the time to connect with us. We’re cheering you on as you help even more people find their way back to God.