I was walking through a Christian bookstore last week and saw a wealth of resources about “missional church”. It is a new direction where churches are focusing their attention and leadership. But just what exactly is missional? If we are going to have a new focus or direction, I think that it is important that we use common terminology to describe what we are doing, and the word missional is being used quite frequently, and often wrongly.
First, missional is not missions, although missions is a part of what missional is about. Missions is the work of God’s Kingdom to expand the Gospel across the world through evangelism, church planting, and “churching” a community, people group, and city. Although missions and missional are not necessarily the same thing, they do have a common root word, missio – meaning “sent”. Missional is an attitude or state of mind of a disciple of Jesus Christ that results in incarnational living in the community and world.
It is the root word that differentiates “missional” from what the American church has been about in the past century, especially the last 50 years of it. To understand missional, we need a perspective of how the American church has evangelized in the past, and how it must evangelize in the present.
Over the past century, the American church has primarily grown through “attractional” evangelism. There was nothing wrong with it, the culture responded well to attractional evangelism; such as revivals, high attendance days, pageants, and special church events designed to attract the community to the church building where they could hear the Gospel. American culture began shifting about 50 years ago however. Although attractional evangelism will still reach some people, most of our society is not responding to this style of evangelism according to Alan Hirsch in his book, The Forgotten Ways.
Although I would hesitate to call it new, missional is emerging as a more effective way to reach and evangelize our culture with the Gospel. Instead of requiring people to come to church to hear the Gospel, missional involves sending the church into the community to share the message of Christ where the lost people are living and working. In other words, changing the mindset of the people who belong to the church from being members to being missionaries.
This tension between attractional and incarnational is where many churches in America find themselves today. In my opinion, many if not most of our church leaders grew up in the “attractional” paradigm where people came to a building for salvation. I know that this is an oversimplification, but if the strategy of your church is to offer a program (VBS, camp, revival) as its primary plan to bring the Gospel to the lost people in your neighborhood, then you are an attractional church. If the church functions in such a way that the pastor and staff are seen as equippers and leaders, and church members are the primary evangelists, the church definitely has a missional leaning.
So how does a Sunday School class, which typically meets in a church facility, function as a missional group of believers? I’ll take this up in tomorrow’s post.
Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/discipleship specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Bob also has his own blog at www.bobmayfield.com