Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Missional Church

Yesterday, I attended a seminar at the Union Baptist Association on the topic of "The Missional Church," led by Ken Shuman, pastor of Wellspring Church in Tomball. The idea of Missional Church is a hot topic in ministry circles over the past ten years, with plenty of books, articles and seminars devoted to it. But what really is a missional church? Let me just start by sharing Ken's list of the four different kinds of churches:

The Attractional Church: Tries to attract people to its building so that they can hear about Jesus, be converted, and then discipled. Assumes the best way to do this is to offer a wide range of high quality programs that will attract (and satisfy) a maximum number of people. Success is measured in attendance numbers. Almost all of the church's resources (money, prayer, work hours, planning) are spent on internal ministry to the church's own members.

The Mission Minded Church: An attractional church that wants to help change the larger world. A significant portion of their resources are spent on ministry to those outside the church, but the bulk of the resources are still internally focused, and the emphasis on missions is mostly in terms of giving money to someone else (ie, the Cooperative Program, special missions offerings). Note: In my opinion, this is the category WBC would most resemble.

The Externally Focused Church: An attractional church that expects its members to be involved in ministry outside the church walls. This kind of church doesn't simply measure success in terms of attendance, they also measure it in terms of impact on the community. Therefore, one-quarter to one-half of their resources are focused outside the church.

The Missional Church: This is a very different kind of animal. A missional church isn't concerned about how many people they can attract to their campus. Often, they don't have a campus at all. Instead, their emphasis is on training their members to live like missionaries, studying the culture of unchurched people and finding new ways to translate the Gospel story into their language. This is different from the "seeker-sensitive" movement that became popular twenty years ago, led by Willow Creek Church. A missional church would be extremely simple. Ken Shuman, for instance, left a life as a successful pastor of a traditional Baptist church to become leader of Wellspring, which meets in a coffee shop and has no full-time clergy. Ken works as manager of the coffee shop in order to support his family and plays in a weekly Poker league in order to build relationships with unchurched people (in order to reassure us uptight Baptists, Ken promised that the poker games aren't for money). They measure success in terms of stories, lives changed, not in terms of raw attendance numbers. Because missional churches don't have the high overhead associated with church buildings, paid clergy or high-quality programs, they can focus nearly all of their resources on the lost.

So what did I get out of this seminar? Well, don't worry. I have no desire for Westbury to sell its buildings. I'm not even planning on growing a goatee or preaching with my shirt-tail out. But there is a lot we can learn from this missional church movement. For instance:

We can strive to become an externally focused church. I have a feeling that when we adopt a school, it will be just the beginning of a new focus for Westbury. Many of our members are going to get involved in the lives of local kids and their families, and we'll see numerous heartbreaking needs that have been going on un-addressed right under our noses. That will lead to other new ministries, and within a few years, this church will offer numerous opportunities for its members to be involved in community transformation. Soon, that will become the expectation of every member: "I go to worship, I have a small group Bible study for fellowship, and I reach the community through ministry." At least, that's my dream.

We can learn to look at our ministry in a missional way. Here's a really great quote from yesterday's seminar: "The church is supposed to be the visible representation of God's Kingdom in the real world, not a purveyor of religious goods and services for the religious clientele." That resonates with me, but how do we become that "visibile representation of God's Kingdom?" It's going to take work to change our mindset. We have to learn to see our own ministry through the eyes of unchurched people. Here's a disturbing question: If our church suddenly packed up and moved out of this community, how many people would even know we were gone?

We can pray about planting a missional church. What if we sponsored a missional church in the same way we have sponsored many ethnic missions? The idea would be the same: We would be starting a mission in order to reach a group of people we cannot reach...only this time it would be unchurched post-moderns, not a different language group.

We can teach our own members to be missional. Conventional church wisdom has taught us that if we live good lives and offer great programs at our church, unsaved people will come to us. That's not happening anymore, if it ever did. Ken said, "We earn the right to share the Gospel with people by being in relationship with them and by doing good works in the community." I think he's right about that: People would be more eager to hear our Good News if they actually knew us as real people and saw the positive changes we were making in the world. We have to train our members to see this as their responsibility.


Anonymous said...


Where's the nearest coffee shop?
I suppose as long as the coffee's flowing, they're not going to throw anyone out! Ha! Trouble is the tables sometimes aren't all that big, but one has to start somewhere, right?

Sounds like a worthwhile workshop you attended.

Any specific ideas for a place to start near the church campus?

D. Lee Grooms said...

Love your thoughts here—they're as applicable in Seattle as in Houston. Must be the same Kingdom and King.

-D. Lee Grooms
City + Church Operations,
Grace Seattle

Jeff Berger said...

No, I don't have any specific ideas for planting a missional church. But I want to be ready if/when one of our own members comes to me and says, "We'd like to start a different kind of church...can you help us?" This is all new to me, but that's how I think it will probably happen. Then we'll ("We" being the church body at large, led by staff, deacons, Church Life Council et al) will need to pray about whether God is in it, and if He seems to be, we'll talk with some people who have done this sort of thing before and get their advice. Then we have to figure out where to get the money to get this thing started. It won't be as easy as saying, "Hey, here's an apartment complex/bowling alley/coffee shop...let's start a church there!" That's what I have so far.

Lee, thanks for commenting again. You'll definitely be someone I'll talk to about this stuff when the time comes. For the rest of you, Lee and I lived in the same dorm building at U of H years ago. We hung out in the same group. And now, though we're separated by a lot of real estate, we're both serving in ministry. Pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
I was just thinking about how something like this might get started a little more simply.
What if individual members were to meet with a lost person, say, over coffee someplace, and continue that one-on-one discussion on through discipleship. At that point, these two could either invite still another person or else for a larger group with other couples of discipling pairs until a group of say, 12, was formed that could meet together regularly to encourage one another as in worship, and further learning together. Then, from that group, the pairs could go out and form new groups of three -- the original witness plus the new, discipled believer, plus a new person, so that the new convert could learn how to relate to a lost person as well as provide support to the original discipler in this process. After a while, the group of 12 could divide in half until it doubled once again.

What do you think? A group of 12 can be easily accommodated at most restaurants by simply putting a few tables together, and lots of places would probably be willing to do this during slack times of the day, as often, a percentage of people will stay and eat or come early for a meal, desert, etc.

I don't think any of the above requires any approval from the church authorities as this is what the church is all about.

Jeff Berger said...

What do I think? I think a big, fat AMEN is in order for that idea! Your last sentence couldn't be more true. May God grant that these kinds of missional encounters would become par for the course among Westbury members...and all Christians, for that matter.