The Missional Church: Becoming a Missional Community

By David Allis

This article is a compilation of ideas from others & myself.

In this article, the term “church” refers to the people of God, who are joined together as His body, with Christ as the head. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination, physical location or weekly meeting. So when you read “church,” think of a community that you are part of, not that meeting or building you go to on Sunday.

There are many churches that call themselves missional. To be missional implies at least two theological and ecclesiological changes for most churches. On the one hand, missional hints at moving from church as a “club” for Christians, to church as Christ’s body, sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself. On the other hand, missional means moving from missions as an activity in which a few Christians are sent to foreign countries to convert unbelievers, to mission as God’s most basic purpose, intended for all believers.  Some churches verbally state a commitment to these, however I am convinced that if these changes are genuinely made, they should radically affect the whole ethos, purpose, values & structure of the church. The important questions changes from something like“how do we be an effective church, helping our people & reaching the community?” to “God has placed us here as an incarnational team of missionaries, so how do we obey Him?”

In an article by David Horrox titled, “The ‘Missional Church’: A Model for Canadian Churches?” he writes, “The church should stop mimicking the surrounding culture and become an alternative community, with a different set of beliefs, values and behaviors. Ministers would no longer engage in marketing; churches would no longer place primary emphasis on programs to serve members. The traditional ways of evaluating ‘successful churches’ – bigger buildings, more people, bigger budgets, larger ministerial staff, new and more programs to serve members – would be rejected. New yardsticks would be the norm: To what extent is our church a ‘sent’ community in which each believer is reaching out to his community? To what extent is our church impacting the community with a Christian message that challenges the values of our secular society?”

Dan Kimball in “The Emerging Church” (Zondervan, 2003) describes the missional church “as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week.”

Characteristics of missional churches

Minfred Minatrea studied a number of missional churches. He defined missional churches as “Reproducing communities of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim his kingdom in their world.” He noted nine practices that they have in common (with an explanatory phrases added in parentheses):

1. Having a high threshold for membership (high expectations for believers)
2. Being real, not real religious (being transparent, authentic, with one foot in “the world.”)
3. Teaching to obey rather than to know (a practical faith)
4. Rewriting worship every week (Creative, participatory Sunday morning services)
5. Living apostolically (each believer as a missionary)
6. Expecting to change the world (aggressively engaged in transforming communities)
7. Ordering actions according to purpose. (Ruthless aligning of resources with mission)
8. Measuring growth by capacity to release rather than retain. (Not megachurches but multiplying churches)
9. Placing kingdom concerns first (in contrast to denomination first. Thus, cooperation with other churches)

In his book The Present Future, Reggie McNeal describes the missional church in terms of six “new realities” and related questions:

New Reality Wrong Question Tough Question
The collapse of the church culture How do we do church better? How do we reconvert from “churchianity” to Christianity?
The shift from church growth to kingdom growth. How do we grow this church? How do we transform our community?
A new reformation: Releasing God’s people. How do we turn members into ministers? How do we turn members into missionaries?
The return to spiritual formation. How do we develop church members? How do we develop followers of Jesus?
The shift from planning to preparation. How do we plan for the future? How do we prepare for the future?
The rise of apostolic leadership. How do we develop leaders for church work? How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?

What is a Missional Church

The following points are some of the aspects that might make up a missional church/community.

Empowering Individuals as Missionaries

  • Individuals are exploring and rediscovering what it means to be Jesus’ sent people as their identity and vocation.
    • Individuals are willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place.
    • Individuals know they must be a cross-cultural missionary (contextual) people in their own community.
    • Individuals are engaged with the culture (in the world) without being absorbed by the culture (not of the world). They become intentionally indigenous.
    • Individuals seek to put the good of their neighbor over their own

Focussed on the local community

  • A missional church is externally focused.
  • A missional church is incarnationally not institutionally driven.
  • A missional church is about discipleship not church membership.
  • A missional church is patterned after God’s missionary purpose in the world.
  • A missional church seeks to establish Kingdom outposts to retake territory under the control of the enemy.
  • A missional church will seek to plant all types of missional communities to expand the Kingdom of God.
  • A missional church faithfully proclaims the Gospel through word and deed; how we embody the gospel in our community and service is as important as what we say.
  • A missional church will give integrity, morality, good character and conduct, compassion, love and a resurrection life filled with hope preeminence to give credence to their reasoned verbal witness.
  • A missionary church seeks to reawaken a movement ethos as together we engage our cultural context.
  • A missional church highlights character, virtue, and compassionate deeds as the most effective witness to God’s Kingdom.
  • A missional church connects to Jesus through mission not doctrinal precision.
  • A missional church adopts an organizational structure and internal forms based on mission not ecclesiastical traditions.
  • A missional church seeks to partner with the community to “seek the shalom” of the community.

An Alternative & God-honouring Community

  • A missional church see themselves as a community or family on a mission together. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians in a missional church.
  • A missional church see themselves as representatives of Jesus and will do nothing to dishonor his name.
  • A missional church is totally reliant on God in all it does, aiming to move beyond superficial faith to a life of supernatural living.
  • A missional church should be desperately dependent on prayer.
  • A missional church is a healing community where people carry each other’s burdens and help restore gently.
  • A missional church practices hospitality by welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community.

Gathering to Empower for Mission

  • A missional church gathered will be for the purpose of worship, encouragement, supplemental teaching, training, and to seek God’s presence and to be realigned with his God’s missionary purpose.
  • A missional church is orthodox in its view of the Gospel and Scripture, but culturally relevant in its methods and practice so that it can engage the world view of the hearers.
  • A missional church will feed deeply on the scriptures throughout the week so they are always ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why they’re living the way they are.
  • A missional church will be a community where all members are involved in learning to be disciples of Jesus. Growth in discipleship is an expectation.
  • A missional church will help people discover, develop & use their spiritual gifts.
  • A missional church understands that God is already present in the culture where it finds itself. Therefore, a missional church doesn’t view its purpose as bringing God into the culture or taking individuals out of the culture to a sacred space.
  • A missional church sees itself as organic and not in static institutional forms.
  • A missional church pursues relationships across generational, ethnic, economic and cultural lines of distinctions.

What Missional Church is Not

  • A missional church is not a dispenser of religious goods and services or a place where people come for their weekly spiritual fix.
  • A missional church is not a place where mature Christians come to be fed and have their needs met.
  • A missional church is not a place where professionals are hired to do the work of the church.
  • A missional church is not a place where the professionals teach their children and youth about God.
  • A missional church is not a church with a “good missions program.” The people are the missions program and includes going to “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  • A missional church is not missional just because it is contemporary, young, hip, postmodern-sensitive, seeker-sensitive or even traditional.
  • A missional church is not about big programs and organizations to accomplish God’s missionary purpose. This does not imply no program or organization, but that they will not drive mission. They will be used in support of people on mission.

 

 

What Missional Church Looks Like
JR Woodward at Dream Awakener has a perspective on success that really helps my understanding of missional. His post “A Working Definition of Success” provides a working definition of whatmissional might look like. Here it is:

  • Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
  • Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
  • Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
  • Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world. (i.e. justice, healing, relief)
  • Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
  • Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers’ we help experience healthy community.
  • Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
  • Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
  • Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
  • Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
  • Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
  • Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is “the church” in our neighborhood, city and world?
  • Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
  • Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concern for the welfare of other countries.
  • Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

Not Just Another Program – But a Shift in Thinking

In the era of “movements” within the Body of Christ, missional is often looked upon as just another phase or program. But we error when we do so for missional is more than just another movement, it is a full expression of who the ecclesia of Christ is and what it is called to be and do. It does build on the ideas and expression learned from past methods and strategies, particularly the church growth and church health movements, but at its core missional is a shift in thinking.

This shift in thinking is expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their recent book (”Breaking the Missional Code,” Broadman & Holman, 2006) like this:

  • From programs to processes
  • From demographics to discernment
  • From models to missions
  • From attractional to incarnational
  • From uniformity to diversity
  • From professional to passionate
  • From seating to sending
  • From decisions to disciples
  • From additional to exponential
  • From monuments to movements

Here is another chart Stetzer and Putman use to illustrate the concept.

Church Growth Church Health Missional Church
Members as Inviters Members as ministers Members as Missionaries
Conversion/Baptism Discipleship Missional Living
Strategic planning Development Programs People Empowerment
Staff_Led Team Leadership Personal Mission
Reaching Prospects Reaching Community Transforming Community
Gathering Training Releasing
Addition Internal Group Multiplication Church Planting Multiplication
Uniformity Diversity Mosaic
Anthropocentric (People centred) Ecclesiocentric (Church centred) Theocentric (God centred)
Great Commission Great Commandment Missio Dei (The Mission of God)

REFERENCES
http://www.friendofmissional.org/
Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. (July 2006)
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church. (November 2003)
Darrell Guder (Editor), Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (1998)
Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches. (2006)
Ed Stetzer and David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code. (2006) **
Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. (2003)
Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. (2000)
Milfred Minatrea, Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. (2004)
Lois Barrett (Editor), Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness. (2004)
George R. Hunsberger (Editor), Craig Van Gelder (Editor), The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. (1996)
Alan Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World.  (2006)