Send Your Church Out on a Mission
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2011 11 Nov
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Reggie McNeal's new book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, (Jossey-Bass, 2009).
A church decides to spend money to build a community center with a food bank instead of a bigger church building. A congregation commits to mentoring every single inmate released from the local prison. People from various churches tutor kids after school, build houses for people who can’t afford them, and visit sick and injured people in their regional hospital. All are examples of the church moving out into the surrounding community – on a mission to serve wherever God leads.
The church’s work is meant to go far beyond the walls of a sanctuary. It’s a vital part of God’s mission in the world, encompassing all parts of society. If your congregation is preoccupied with only its own concerns, it will miss out on the powerful ways that God wants to use it in the world.
So send your church out on a mission to join God in His work. Here’s how you can make your church missional:
Instead of just doing church, be the church. You don’t belong to a church; you and your fellow believers are the church on Earth. Thanks to your connection with Jesus, wherever you are, the church is present. God wants you to represent Him well to the world and join Him wherever He is already at work – at an airport, grocery store, sports stadium, or any other place you go and sense Him leading you to respond. A missional church is simply the people of God partnering with God in His redemptive mission in the world. So every day, pray for God to show you where He’s working in your community and how you can join Him in that work, serving people in Jesus’ name. As you show people God’s love through your service, God will give you natural opportunities to talk with them about why you’re serving, and that will help you share God’s truth with them through spiritual conversations.
Shift from an internal to an external ministry focus. Rather than spending most of your church’s resources (time, money, energy, and talent) on activities within your own congregation, look for ways to bless and serve the community in which your church is located. Don’t be so focused on increasing your church’s attendance numbers or financial bottom line that you miss out on the vital ministry work God is calling you to do. Instead of viewing your church as a place where people come to receive religious services, view it as a group of people charged with carrying on Jesus’ mission in the world. Stop trying to attract people simply to come to your church’s worship services, programs, and events. Aim instead to help connect people to God through His mission work in your community. Realize that your church isn’t in competition with other local churches; all of your congregations are called to work together to transform the community in your area. Instead of just holding worship services, consider your service to God a form of worship. When you and others in your church gather, share stories of how God has been working in your lives as you serve Him in the community and celebrate His ongoing work. Be creative as you pray for your community. Pray while you walk through specific areas. Put out prayer boxes in your workplace and at community events like festivals where people can drop off prayer requests. Follow up with people who’ve requested to prayer to let them know you’ve been praying and ask for updates on their situations. Let local officials (government leaders, school teachers, police officers, etc.) know that you’ve adopted them for ongoing prayer and ask them to let you know their top concerns so you can pray about them. Host community prayer meetings. Design your church’s website so that people can submit their prayer requests through it. Limit the number of church offices and roles that your church’s leaders can take on, so they have enough time to act as missionaries in the community. Make sure that every Sunday school class, small group, music ensemble, and ministry task force has some type of external community service component. Ask community leaders to regularly inform your church’s leaders of their current needs so you’ll know how best to help. Make your church staff members available to community organizations as part of their job responsibilities. Provide specific training for the skills people in your congregation will need to serve the community. Develop partnerships with community organizations, such as adopting a local school and serving there regularly. Coordinate your church’s calendar with your community’s calendar of events to make sure that your church has a significant presence at local upcoming events. Help church members see their existing community involvement (including the work they do in their paid secular jobs) as primary opportunities for ministry. Track people’s community service hours and regularly celebrate their service. Open up your church building to the community to use – for everything from support group meetings and after-school computer labs to an auditorium for concerts and storage space for a local food bank. Make sure that a greater percentage of your church’s financial revenues go toward community ministry than toward internal expenses. Just as you’ve probably conducted a capital campaign to build or renovate your church’s building, conduct a capital campaign to raise money to support community projects. Partner with businesses. Write grants. Establish nonprofit organizations that target community ministry opportunities. Offer financial planning seminars and services to the community. Help people in the community start their own businesses. Set up your website to create an online community where people can discuss community ministry projects, submit prayer requests about them, and donate funds to support them. Create podcast interviews with community leaders for updates on what’s going on at their various locations. Create engaging Gospel presentations online that can reach many people in your surrounding community who aren’t members of your church.
Shift from program development to people development. Instead of focusing on how busy people are in your church’s programs, focus on how much they’re growing spiritually. Urge people to join God in His redemptive mission in the world rather than just studying God in a church environment that’s protected from the world. Don’t expect lost people to come to your church; instead, take the church to them by building relationships with them wherever you encounter them: at work, at school, in restaurants, in parks, on a bus, in a store, etc. Realize that living out your faith means more than just adding a set of religious activities to your life; it involves changing your entire way of life. When assessing spiritual vitality, don’t look at how involved someone is in church activities. Instead, look at their values and lifestyle. Measure your church not on the quality of its programs, but on the quality of its people. Ask: “Are people growing in every aspect of their lives?”, “Are they becoming more like Jesus?”, and “Are they blessing the world as the people of God?”. Allow time in your gatherings for people to have freely flowing conversations about what God is doing in their lives. Don’t pack in so much activity that there’s not enough for meaningful conversations. Encourage people to build relationships that hold them mutually accountable to each other as they grow in faith. Encourage people to integrate their faith into all aspects of their lives – not just the time they spend in church. Give people of all ages opportunities to serve together and build intergenerational friendships.
Shift from church-based to kingdom-based leadership. Move beyond concentrating on your church’s own institutional maintenance and toward helping your church develop an incarnational influence on the surrounding community. Think more about kingdom impact than just church growth. Encourage your church’s staff members to think in terms of their kingdom assignments rather than just their church jobs. Urge them to get out into the community as much as possible, such as having your pastor serve regularly as a chaplain for employees at a local corporation. Talk about God, not just church. When you read and study biblical accounts of what God has done in the past, keep in mind how God is at work right now in your own community, and celebrate what He’s doing. Make sure that church leaders regularly consider how their own lives are missional, since people in the community will follow them not because of their church positions, but because of their personal faithfulness to God.
Develop key skills. In addition to the training that prepared you for church leadership, build these skills that will help you serve well in missional leadership: coaching, storytelling, conflict management, transition leadership, listening skills, celebrating people’s achievements, missionary training, and prayer.
Adapted from Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, copyright 2009 by Reggie McNeal. Published by Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, Inc., San Francisco, Ca., www.josseybass.com.
Reggie McNeal serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, Texas. McNeal is the author of A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, the best-selling The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church and Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders from Jossey-Bass. To learn more go to www.missionalrenaissance.org.