This fall our Thursday blogs are focused on the five shifts we’ve identified as significant for living out the mission and vision of ECO. Every third Thursday, Dana Allin writes specifically about one of these shifts, and then the following two Thursdays we hear from people within the ECO community who are living out that particular shift in their local contexts. Read Shift One, Shift Two, and Shift Three.
Even though “missional” is one of the most widely used words within popular Christian culture today, I find this particular shift may need further explanation. Before we look at the missional model of church, I'd like to first explain the more common “attractional” approach.
The attractional church model is built upon the idea that we want to first attract people to our weekend worship, before moving them into service (usually within the church, as well as communal educational opportunities such as a small group). This model assumes people who don’t know Jesus, will only want to come to church if they can find the right one to meet their needs. The attractional model worked best when the difference between society and the Church was fairly minimal, and when it was easy for people to make the jump from practicing good-citizen behavior, to being a Christian. Now we find ourselves firmly imbedded in the post-modern, post-Christian era. Societal views and culture are more divergent than ever before. Due to these cultural shifts, the attractional church model has somewhat weakened in its effectiveness. This creates an opportunity for change.
We need to approach our culture in the same way a missionary would approach their mission field. In the very same way, Jesus commanded us when He said, “Go make disciples of all nations.” We must be sent into our world, emulating the same posture and attitude Christ exemplified when He came to us.
Missional is being sent into the world with the same posture of Jesus, to bring people to faith, and to help them grow more fully devoted to Him.
At my former church, Indian River, David Hancock, the Assistant Pastor for Next Generation Ministries led the charge to help form our missional communities. We found this approach was more effective in reaching our community for Jesus, while also, the people involved in this type of ministry accelerated much more rapidly in their own discipleship. As Alex Absalom said, “Mission is the vehicle for discipleship, and discipleship is the engine for mission.”
David and I also found that by engaging people in missional ministry, it changed our existing congregation, and brought life to the dormant missional DNA I believe is present in every believer. In addition to a missional model, we also held onto the attractional model of ministry, and our attractional approach was greatly enhanced because a minority, yet still important, portion of our congregation was on mission together.
How might a congregation begin to develop a missional approach? The best way I have witnessed multiple churches actively approaching missional ministry is they started with the small, 5-10% of their congregation who had an impulse to move in this direction. Usually it's not the leaders who have the urge to do this type of ministry, but the people on the fringes of the congregation that are not totally plugged into the mission of the church. These individuals are not fully satisfied by a purely attractional model. What we find is these communities need to be reformed by becoming more fully immersed in the gospel, begin the incorporation of missional practices, and finally develop a particular community to which they can actively engage. These people need to be freed up from the programmatic aspects of ministry, and be commissioned into their mission field.
There are plenty of resources to help a group get started. Many have used the Tangible Kingdom Primer by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, which is an eight week study guide. Jim Singleton, David Hancock, and I are just putting the finishing touches on a missional community formation workbook we developed. It's called “Together on Mission: Building Gospel-Centered Missional Communities.” We will be sending a copy to each of our ECO churches (stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks). This workbook is intended to be used in a five-month formation period. We are hopeful these formation groups will develop into more than small groups meeting with a little mission on the side, but instead, by taking the extra time and intentionality, we believe groups will have the chance to get to the true heart of missional community formation.
If you desire to learn more about developing missional communities in established churches, David and I will be doing a pre-conference workshop at Exponential in Tampa, FL, April 27-30. Exponential is an extraordinary conference for church planting, discipleship, and missional ministry. We highly encourage you to investigate more on their website and see if it's something you'd like to attend.
There are also resources for individuals who want to begin missional rhythms in their own lives. While it's usually more effective to be on mission with other people, these resources can help you take the first steps if you are unable to form a missional team. Some of these include Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture by Michael Frost or Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood by Alex Roxburgh.
I would encourage you to be thinking about ways in which you or your church might begin to incorporate this shift into your life and ministry.