What Is a Missional Church?

missional church

“Missional” has been used and abused for years. What does it mean and what does a missional church look like?

The Missional Church

What is a missional church? One would think the answer to this question is obvious. A church that practices missions, right? Or is it mission? It is not an easy task. Missiologists, ecclesiologists, theologians, pastors, and church leaders have been wrestling with this question for some time now.

Before we can answer the question “What is a missional church?” we must first tackle the thorny issue of just what it means to be “missional.” The word “missional” is used in such a variety of ways it is in danger of becoming meaningless. The term ends up being like an ecclesiological Rorschach test. More often than not, how people describe the “missional church” says more about themselves than what it says about a biblical portrait of the church.

Some have argued we should simply jettison the word “missional,” but I do not believe that is the best move. Instead, we should work hard to frame a definition. The term can serve as a guide for the church as it seeks to be a witness in its culture. As more churches and leaders engage in the missiological dialogue, defining the core terms of this conversation has become more important.

A few years ago, I collaborated with a group of missional thinkers including Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, Linda Berquist, J.D. Greear, and others in order to provide some parameters for how we used the word “missional.” We drafted a document, “Missional Manifesto.” (You can read the full text of the “Manifesto” online here.) The preamble of the “Missional Manifesto” explains our focus:

Redeeming the integrity of the word missional is especially critical. It is not our intent (or within our ability) to define words for others, but we thought it helpful to describe and define how we are using the term—and to invite others to do the same. A biblically faithful, missional understanding of God and the church is essential to the advancement of our role in His mission . . . (emphasis mine)

This document did not end all conversations on the use of “missional,” but it did declare what a group of us believe is the best way to use it. Because so many people found theManifesto helpful in their own ministry, it’s a constructive place to start the “missional” discussion. Before I describe the characteristics of a missional church, I will use theManifesto to provide a framework for understanding what the term “missional” means and how this adjective modifies our ecclesiology.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Ed Stetzer