What is the Missional Church?

I’ve closed the Friend of Missional website that got its start in 2006. So we don’t lose that material, I’m posting the main content here.


What is Missional – A Short Answer

“Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but many churches today have inadvertently changed the “go and be” command to a “come and see” appeal. We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.

“Missional is a helpful term used to describe what happens when you and I replace the “come to us” invitations with a “go to them” life. A life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower.”

—Rick Meigs


What is the Missional Church?

One important note before you continue: On this website, the term “church” refers to the people of God; the called out ones; those formed for his dwelling and bearers of his presence in the world. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination or physical location. So when you read “church,” think of yourself and your faith community, not that building you go to each Sunday.

In an article titled, “The ‘Missional Church’: A Model for Canadian Churches?” David Horrox 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.”

Both Horrox and Kimball capture much of the essence and heart of what it means to be missional, but can we probe deeper and articulate a more definitive understanding? I think we can and what follows is an imperfect attempt to explore and develop our appreciation of what it means to be missional.

Missional is a Shift in Thinking

But first a necessary word of caution for those who wish to explore and understand what it means to be the missional church or people. Alan Hirsch rightly states that “the word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute it for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.” As a result, 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 ekklesia of Christ is and what it is called to be and do. At its core, missional is a shift in thinking. This shift in thinking is expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their 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

And let me add a couple more to Ed’s list:

  • From services to service
  • From ordained to the ordinary
  • From organizations to organisms

Making this shift can be difficult for many (particularly Evangelical Americans), but to fully appreciate what the missional church is, we must look outside of our traditional understanding of how we do church and realign ourselves with the biblical narrative. So, as you consider the following “description,” don’t attempt to understand it within your traditional framework, shift your thinking.

Description of the Missional Church

  • The missional church is a collection of missional believers acting in concert together in fulfillment of the missio dei.1
  • The missional church is one where people are exploring and rediscovering what it means to be Jesus’ sent people as their identity and vocation.
  • The missional church is faith communities willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place.
  • The missional church knows that they must be a cross-cultural missionary (contextual) people and adopt a missionary stance in relation to their community.
  • The missional church will be engaged with the culture (in the world) without being absorbed by the culture (not of the world). They will become intentionally indigenous.
  • The missional church understands that God is already present in the culture where it finds itself. Therefore, the missional church doesn’t view its purpose as bringing God into the culture or taking individuals out of the culture to a sacred space.
  • The missional church is about more than just being contextual, it is also about the nature of the church and how it relates to God.
  • The missional church is about being — being conformed to the image of God.
  • The missional church will seek to plant all types of missional communities.
  • The missional church is evangelistic and faithfully proclaims the gospel through word and deed. Words alone are not sufficient; how the gospel is embodied in our community and service is as important as what we say.
  • The missional church understands the power of the gospel and does not lose confidence in it.
  • The missional church recognizes that it does not hold a place of honor in its host community and that its missional imperative compels it to move out from itself into that host community as salt and light.2
  • The missional church will align all their activities around the missio dei — the mission of God.
  • The missional church seeks to put the good of their neighbor over their own.
  • The 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.
  • The missional church practices hospitality by welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community.
  • The missional church will always be in a dynamic tension or paradox between missional individuals and community. We cannot sustain being missional on our own, but if we are not being missional individually we cannot sustain being mission-shaped corporately.3
  • The missional church will see themselves as representatives of Jesus and will do nothing to dishonor his name.
  • The missional church will be totally reliant on God in all it does. It will move beyond superficial faith to a life of supernatural living.
  • The missional church will be desperately dependent on prayer.
  • The 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 God’s missionary purpose.
  • The 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.
  • The missional church will feed deeply on the scriptures throughout the week.
  • The missional church will be a community where all members are involved in learning “the way of Jesus.” Spiritual development is an expectation.
  • The missional church will help people discover and develop their spiritual gifts and will rely on gifted people for ministry instead of talented people.
  • The missional church is a healing community where people carry each other’s burdens and help restore gently.
  • The missional church will requires that its leaders be missiologists.
  • 1. Brother Maynard

    2. Frost and Hirsch

    3. Brad Sargent

What the Missional Church is Not

  • The missional church is not a dispenser of religious goods and services or a place where people come for their weekly spiritual fix.
  • The missional church is not a place where mature Christians come to be fed and have their needs met.
  • The missional church is not a place where “professionals” are hired to do all the work of the church.
  • The missional church is not a place where the “professionals” teach the children and youth about God to the exclusion of parental responsibility.
  • The 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.”
  • The missional church is not about a new strategy for evangelism.
  • The missional church is not missional just because it is contemporary, young, hip, postmodern-sensitive, seeker-sensitive or even traditional.
  • The 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.
  • The missional church is not involved in political party activism, either on the right or left. As Brian McLaren wrote, we need “purple peoplehood” — people who don’t want to be defined as red or blue, but have elements of both.

What the Missional Church Looks Like

JR Woodward has a perspective on success that really helps my understanding of missional. His post A Working Definition of Success provides a working definition of what missional 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.

Etymology of Missional

Definition: “Relating to or connected with a religious mission; missionary.”
Part of Speech: Adjective. An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying, or quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun which it modifies.
Etymology: From the word missionalism which is a noun meaning, “missionary work or activity.”
First Usage: 1907 in W. G. HOLMES’ Age Justinian & Theodora II. Page 687. Quote: “Several prelates, whose missional activities brought over whole districts and even nationalities to their creed” (emphasis added). (Reference: Oxford English Dictionary) It should be noted that Andrew Jones has found it used as early as 1883.
Modern Usage: The first missiologist using the term “missional” in its modern understanding was Francis DuBose in his book, “God Who Sends” (Broadman Press, 1983). By the 1990’s the term began to appear more and more in such books as “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America” (Edited by Darrell L. Guder) and the works of Lesslie Newbigin.

Slow Church: Savor, Deepen, Invigorate

I’ve posted on the concept of missional being the “slow movement” of Christianity. The concept of slowness, as defined by this movement, is essential IMHO. Taking the appropriate amount of time to experience the various activities, people and communities in our lives, we are able to savor, deepen, and invigorate the important things and relationships.

slow_churchTwo authors have now published a book focused on the topic. “In Slow Church, Chris Smith and John Pattison invite us to leave franchise faith behind and enter into the ecology, economy and ethics of the kingdom of God, where people know each other well and love one another as Christ loved the church.”

The book has been well recommend, so this 247 pager has been added to my “slow” reading list.

Here is another post related to consumerism in the church.

Also checkout SlowChurch.com.

HT: Scot McKnight

What is a Third Place?

Back in the ancient of day, 2007, I wrote on ‘Third Places.’

Missional Church Network has a very good follow-on post that is well worth the read: ‘What is a Third Place?‘ Good video also and I really encourage you to pursue finding the ‘Third Places’ in your neighborhood, then get involved.

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Seeking Slowness

I’ve posted on the concept of missional being the “slow movement” of Christianity. Give it a quick read and then see where Dan White takes another slant on this topic in “Missional-Marinating.”

I really like this quote:

I’ll tell you up front, my old-high-capacity-leader-self resists this marinating process. My old self can’t rest, it can’t sleep. It needs quick returns, escalating numbers, regional buzz and high excitement. All of those pieces previously helped me not feel like a failure. But here in the laboratory of a Missional-Community, slow is our friend. Seeking slowness is essential in the stew of discipleship. Cultivating a culture saturated in the embodied life of Jesus requires purposeful patience. A new character needs to be developed while leading in this type of atmosphere. Slow is not something to bear with, it’s something to embrace. No longer am I trying to launch an organization that sparkles before its consumers. The call is to shape a way of life; to create a conducive setting for transformation. In this stew we need unhurried time and grace-filled space for:long conversations, unearthing conflicts, detox from consumerism, facing missional fears, relearning how to listen, frustrated prayers and moving beyond suspicion to trust.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @danwhitejr .

Neighborhood Action

For many years, our faith community has worked with our neighborhood high school to help them maintain the school grounds and landscape. One year we took a Sunday, and instead of the usual worship service, we had everyone show up at the school. It was amazing what a few hundred people can get done in a few hours.

Today we joined with Waterfront Foursquare, Portland Christian and local community neighbors for a clean-up, fix-up and spruce-up before school starts next week.

A great way to “moved into the neighborhood” and become involved with our neighbors.

Coaching Questions

Hugh Halter posted today on the topic of “How I Coach People into TRUE Missional Leadership.”

He gives four key aspects of life that must be coached in order for a leader to be a true missionally incarnational leader: Deep in Character, Clear in Calling, Culturally Savvy, and Able to Lead Inclusive Community.

Here are his coaching questions that can help our ability to engage our the lost culture with the Gospel:

  • Do you know the names of all your neighbors? If not, what can you do this month to get to know them without being a dork?
  • Are you doing any recreation, hobbies, or school functions with the intent to make friends?
  • Tell me about some good conversations you’ve had with lost friends this month? Have you made any plans to invite them deeper into your lives or go deeper into their lives?
  • How could you bless the children of the people you’re meeting?
  • Have any of your lost friends invited you to anything this last month? Did you go? How did it go? Any plans to thank them by inviting them to something cool?
  • Have you done anything this last month that you may need to apologize for to a lost friend? Maybe not being more helpful to them? Saying no to an invite they gave you? Maybe being gone when something bad happened to them?
  • What are you finding is always good news to your lost friends? Have you made any plans to be good news? What is that?
  • Have you taken much time this month to exegete the needs of your community? Have you talked to any school employees, city workers or government officials? How can you make that happen or begin to help where they expose need?
  • How many parties have you thrown or gone to this last month?
  • What types of non-profits are working in your area that you could help out with and support?
  • Have you been able to share much of your story to a lost friend this month? How did that go? Any follow up?
  • Are you showing patience with the people around you or have you overstepped any lines the culture is giving you lately?
  • Have you helped serve anyone this month?
  • How are you praying for the people around you? What does that look like? Has God led you to do anything unique for a friend?
  • Have you invited any new friends to anything this last month? What was it? How did that go? Any next steps?
  • Are you and your spouse in the same stride in how much time you’re giving to lost folks? How many times a week or evenings have you been opening your home?
  • How many of your 21 weekly meals have you been sharing with people?
  • How have you been engaging the culture with those in your Christian community?
  • Do you feel that your Christian community is trustworthy to bring any new friend to? If not, why and how can you mentor your community toward inclusiveness and trust?
  • Have you been advocating for any people this last month?
  • What common space, coffee shops, pubs, etc. have you been hanging out in consistently? Have any interesting relationships started to form?

I plan on using these to challenge my own missional journey and those I’m coaching.

I’d be interested in anything you’d modify, delete or add. Leave a comment.

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Missional is the “Slow Movement” of Christianity

I’m a big supporter of the “slow movement” which is all about taking time to enjoy the journey of life, as opposed to the desperate need to arrive, meet the goal, accomplish the task, do as much as possible in as little time as possible.

The slow movement is not about doing things slowly, but seeks to connect us more meaningfully with others, with our communities, with family, and with who we are as spiritual beings. A main tenant is that by taking the appropriate amount of time to experience the various activities, people and communities in our lives, we are able to savor, deepen, and invigorate the important things and relationships. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) echoes this need.

Philosopher Guttorm Fløistad summarizes the slow movement, stating: “The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.”

slow movement missional

Missional is the slow movement of Christianity. It’s where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others, where we seek to connect more meaningfully with others, with our communities, with family, and with Jesus.

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Building Community

Helped organize a neighborhood event this morning along with the Stephens Creek Stewards and Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. We got a neighborhood work party together to help protect the wetland on our street from Purple Loosestrife and other invasive weeds.

We filled two garden waste recycling containers, saved the City the expense of sending in a crew, create some ownership of our local environment and got to know some of our newer neighbors.

It was another step in bringing a greater sense of community to the neighborhood. At the social hour in our backyard afterwards, I got a good response about doing a block party next year.

Small positive steps in community and relationship building.

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Where are the Missional Evangelicals?

missional journal

David Dunbar, President, Biblical Seminary, writes his Missional Journal every couple of months and it is always something I make time to read.

This month he asks, “Where are the Missional Evangelicals?”

It’s a good thought provoking read where he first lays out the issue: “The positive and enthusiastic involvement of Evangelicals in the cause of global missions over the last century makes their comparative non-participation in the missional church movement intriguing. I am not saying that the movement is devoid of evangelical voices–that is clearly not the case. But given Evangelicals’ concern for gospel outreach, one might have expected that by now the word “missional” would be more clearly understood, that churches would be more engaged with the opportunities for incarnational ministries, that more Bible colleges and seminaries would be revamping programs in a missional direction, etc. So what’s up?”

Dr. Dunbar suggests that “perhaps a larger problem that has stood in the way of evangelical embrace is that the missional discussion has not seemed sufficiently ‘biblical.'” Now comes the heart of his argument. He writes that this current ambivalence of Evangelicals toward the missional church based on this assertion “is no longer justifiable (if indeed it ever was) in terms of insufficient biblical grounding. The game-changer is (or should be) the thoughtful and detailed work of Christopher Wright, an OT scholar and chair of the Theology Working Group of the Lausanne Movement. His massive study The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (IVP, 2006) argued powerfully for the theme of mission as integral to a faithful reading of scripture. He has recently published a very engaging follow-up entitled The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Zondervan, 2010).”

He then highlights several points from the books that he found particularly helpful: Mapping the Bible around the mission of God, election, and a holistic or integral mission.

Full text here in a PDF document.

If you don’t get his newsletter, you might give it a go. You can subscribe here and also read archived newsletters.

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Wanted: Notorious Leader of an Underground Liberation Movement


Notorious Leader of an Underground Liberation Movement

Wanted for the following charges:

  • Practicing medicine, winemaking and food distribution without a license.
  • Interfering with businessmen in the temple.
  • Associating with known criminals, radicals, subversives, prostitutes and street people.
  • Claiming to have the authority to make people into God’s children.

Appearance: Typical hippie type—long hair, beard, robe, sandals.

Hangs around slum areas, few rich friends, often sneaks out into the desert.

Beware: This man is extremely dangerous. His insidiously inflammatory message is particularly dangerous to young people who haven’t been taught to ignore him yet. He changes men and claims to set them free.

Warning: He is still at large!


Jesus Movement

These are the opening lines of the June 21, 1971, cover story in Time magazine. It covered the “Jesus Revolution” or as we usually labeled it, “The Jesus Movement.” It was the time when the Spirit moved deeply among the under 30 generation — a generation growing up in “an impersonal and despiritualized life that increasingly finds release in sexploration, status, alcohol and conspicuous consumption.” A world falling apart, being exploited and destroyed, where a “Silent Spring” seems very likely, a world on the “Eve of Destruction.” It was a time when many of us honestly never expected to see our 30th birthday (seriously).

And the Church? Irrelevant, meaningless and sold out to “The Man.”

The Jesus revolution rejects not only the material values of conventional America but the prevailing wisdom of American theology.

Times don’t seem to have changed much, but the Spirit is blowing a refreshing breeze among His people which has again opened spiritual eyes and ignited a movement — the missional movement — where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for Him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture.

The Jesus Movement faded, but its fruit radically impacted the American church. I expect the missional movement as we know it will also fade, but it too will (and already has) have a radical and deep influence on western Christendom.

Because the Jesus Movement is the root of the missional movement, it is well worth your time to read the full Time magazine story. You can find it here.

Other Relevant Posts

Learning From the Jesus Movement

Living Life As Beautifully As We Can

Another Jesus Freak Called Home