The terms missional and missional church are barely 10 years old, but already they bring up more than half a million hits on a Google search. Churches are inundated with missional books, missional websites, missional consultation groups, and missional speakers. Yet the meaning of the term remains unclear.
Some use missional to describe a church that rejects treating the gospel like a commodity for spiritual consumers; others frame it as a strategy for marketing the church and stimulating church growth. Some see the missional church as a refocusing on God's action in the world rather than obsessing over individuals' needs; others see it as an opportunity to "meet people where they are" and reinvent the church for postmodern culture.
Clearly, we need to examine the range of perspectives hiding under the term missional if we're to make use of insights learned in the missional-church discussion.
Back to Beginnings
A 1998 book titled Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America was the first work to introduce the concept of a missional church. The multi-authored book grew out of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, a group of professors and pastors that sought to bring the World Council of Churches' discussions of missio dei ("the mission of God") and Lesslie Newbigin's missionary insights to bear on North America. According to Missional Church, the American church had been tied to a "Christendom model" of Christianity, wherein the church focused on internal needs and maintaining its cultural privilege in society. The decline of Christendom provided the church an opportunity, they said, to rediscover its identity as a people sent by God into the world as gospel witnesses.
Such ideas often provoke resistance. ...1
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