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Eldering in a Decentralized Movement

Elders in Decentralized MovementKaleo Church began with a vision of preaching the Word and gathering people to be on mission to the world. Originally our dream amounted to being the ‘Mars Hill’ of San Diego, where I had come from and the church that planted us. For a variety of reasons this vision shifted as we saw the tensions of growing one large service here in San Diego. It was through the influence of Harbor Presbyterian we felt gospel-motivated to change our vision to become a multi-site church planting movement with elders preaching the Word at each location. We felt smaller bodies of people gathering together made more sense. It allowed a more intimate community, contextualization, greater volunteering, and participation and a wider presence throughout the city as we started new sites. At this time we took a group of people and started a second site at the San Diego State University campus. Kaleo now was a multi-site church with two service locations in San Diego. In this new model we envisioned elders would primarily live out their ‘eldering’ in a specific site. As we began plans for a third site several elders were to go with the new location.

Through prayer and through a process of re-imagining what forms of church would best assist the forward progress of the gospel the vision of Kaleo shifted a second time. Kaleo, with the influence of Total Church and our friendship with Soma Communities began to examine how believers could ‘live out the gospel’ centered on the Word in community on mission to the world. It was at this time we disbanded the few Bible Studies meeting mid-week throughout the city and began forming ‘Missional Communities’. As this process has taken place we now have Missional Communities throughout the county of San Diego some have been a half-hour North or East of San Diego but at each one 8-30 people gather throughout the week to share their lives one-to-another, to be on mission and to grow in their gospel understanding. The primary ethos of ‘being the church’ is now in the small home gatherings throughout the week that gather together with other Missional Communities on Sunday’s for a celebration service.

In this shift the role and responsibilities of the Elders had to change. How should an elder express his role in the decentralized life of Missional Communities?

Here is our beginning thoughts: (click on below image for larger view)

Elders in Decentralized Movement Small

An elder primarily expresses his role through the oversight in the life of a local community. This is done as follows: (~20-60 people)
• Overseeing 2-3 Missional Communities.
• Being on mission and teaching people how to live missionally.
• Counseling people
• Teaching
• Active discipleship of leaders who lead MC and other areas.
• Leading people in prayer
• Ensuring mercy ministries are occurring locally and that people are meeting needs of the church community.
• Being active in the marriage, funerals, baptisms, teaching of sacraments and baby covenant service of your local community.
• Conducting new member interviews for those in their area.
• Demonstrating hospitality and encouraging others to be hospitable.
• Visiting people, following-up when people seem to be missing.

An Elder secondarily expresses his role through a local site:
• Regular attendance at the weekly site gathering.
• Serving communion at the site gathering.
‚Ä¢ Ensuring the needs of those who attend the ‘service’ but are not part of a MC are met.

Lastly, Elders also are committed to the vision of the movement and are involved in helping the corporate body.
• Lead the movement in one ‘cause’ area. (Eg. Apologetics class, Premarital Class, Site Director)
‚Ä¢ Attend regular movement-wide elder meetings and elder/deacon meetings. Kaleo recognizes this role requires a tremendous commitment to meet with people, build relationships, answer emails, phone calls, visiting people, attending meetings and functions. The role of elder requires the flexibility and time to invest in these things. It is because of the primary focus of being involved in the life of local MC’s that Elders have the option to opt-out of these movement meetings but can attend at any time to provide their input.


  1. Is this model going to be discussed/elaborated upon at the upcoming bootcamp, or is it going to be more focused on the MHC model? Looking forward to being there!

  2. Drew,

    Thanks for being a leader in this MC driven model of church. As you know, we look to you and Soma for a input in our expression of similar ecclesiology at Austin City Life. You’ve been very generous with your thinking and resources, thanks!

    As we move in a similar direction with elders overseeing multiple MCs, I have a few quesetions:

    1. As your sites grow, will there come a point at which your sites independently governed?
    2. Are all sites part of one budget?
    3. How much methodological freedom do you give to these sites? Do they have to be MC-driven?
    4. What resources have been most helfpul in shaping MC elders?

  3. Thanks for sharing this Drew. I know that as Kaleo’s vision has changed over the years, it’s been difficult to quantify or articulate that vision (while in the change) but these “beginning thoughts” layout a clear vision that not only makes sense, but closely matches what I see every week.

    I look forward to seeing this developed more fully and I think Jonathan’s questions are going to be some of the top questions our members will have.

  4. Drew… Big issue and looks like Kaleo is ahead of many in its thinking and application. Would love to reprint this post as a leadership case study over at Missional Tribe with your permission.

  5. Jed – I’m sure it (this model) will be in sessions but certainly it will shape our conversations at the bootcamp.

    Rick – Reprint away.

    Jonathan –

    1. As your sites grow, will there come a point at which your sites independently governed?
    – Yes we’ve discussed this. We have yet to know exactly when but believe there would be a point when a site would become independent.
    2. Are all sites part of one budget?
    – Same financial entity, different budgets yet many shared costs.

    3. How much methodological freedom do you give to these sites? Do they have to be MC-driven?
    – They need to be shaped by the vision (which include life-on-life relations known as MCs) but they have tremendous methodological freedom.

    4. What resources have been most helfpul in shaping MC elders?
    – Prayer, mistakes, repentance, experience and our relations with Soma/Crowded House. There really aren’t many out there.

  6. Thanks for the post. If you have time…

    Are your MC leaders voting elders? Will they by one day?

    Do MC leaders administer communion?

    Do your baptisms occur in the MC as I understand Crowded House’s do?


  7. Is Kaleo doing video for preaching at the sites or are the local elders doing the preaching? If the latter, are they working through the same texts or are each deciding what is best for their body?

  8. Jeff: The MC leaders are not ‘voting elders’. We are moving to a more prayer & planning system where decisions are made as a congregation guided by the elders. Each MC leader acts much like a pastor of a community as so we treat them as elders-in-training.

    Right now MC leaders do not administer communion but I wouldn’t have a problem if they did in a MC gathering.

    Our baptisms include everyone (all sites and MCs) presently.

    Dwayne: No video preaching. Local elders and at present they will preach the same text but they could (will) be able to decide what is best for their body.

  9. Thanks for sharing how Kaleo has grown/changed/adapted/etc. I see the wisdom of your “decentralized” movement which seems like it would require cultivating a willingness to “spread” among your people – as you continue to plant new MC and service sites.

    Question 1 – How are you cultivating that type of willingness to spread and plant among your people?

    Question 2 – If a particular teaching elder is very gifted (Fairchild or Cain), would you utilize video sermons across the multi-sites as a way to “steward giftedness” like Piper & Driscoll? If not, I’ve love to hear your current rational.

  10. Steven

    #1 – I think we communicate a lot about it and connect it to the gospel. The willingness needs to be a gospel-motivation to be on mission to the world.

    #2 – Currently we are thankful that we aren’t faced with a decision like this. I don’t want to get too into this because I love & appreciate men like Piper & Driscoll but at present we would not consider video sermons. Let me pray/consider this in terms of what I’d choose to share regarding our rational.

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