In days gone by, missional efforts were focused on presenting and demonstrating the love of Christ to non-Christians. But in the 1980s a new term was coined to describe the growing number of North Americans without any significant church background. They were called the unchurched. Untold numbers of books were written about them. Ministry conferences discussed them. Church leaders orchestrated worship services to attract them.

The shift from "evangelizing non-Christians" to "reaching the unchurched" was perceived as benign at the time, but it represented an important shift in our understanding of mission. The church was no longer just a means by which Christ's mission would advance in the world, it was also the end of that mission. The goal wasn't simply to introduce the unchurched to Christ, but—as the term reveals—to engage them in a relationship with the institutional church. This paved the way for the ubiquitous (but flawed) belief today that "mission" is synonymous with "church growth." ...

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