Church was never meant to be just a place where people gather for religious ceremonies. Neither was it designed to be a club where members try to protect the status quo. Church should be a dynamic place, where people encounter God, grow closer to Him, and reach out to others. In short, your church should be on a mission to make authentic disciples of Jesus.
No matter how many activities you offer at your church, if they’re not focused outward to draw new people in, you’re not on the mission God wants you to be. Here’s how your church can go from being isolated to being engaged in the world as a missional church:
Dream bigger dreams. Stop focusing just on just maintaining a reasonable existence as a church. Realize that your church is sent into the world to be an image bearer of God. Ask God to renew your excitement about your church. Ask Him to give you the courage and vision to see beyond mere survival to how your church can thrive.
Be flexible. Expect change, and even welcome it. Know that change is a powerful tool God can use to help everyone in your congregation grow. Be willing to adapt to the needs of new people who come to your church, communicating God’s timeless Gospel in fresh and creative ways.
Discern the difference between simply a mission-minded church and a truly missional church: While mission-minded church emphasizes sending and supporting missionaries, a missional church emphasizes being a mission field and doing mission work. A mission-minded church is representative, but a missional church is participative. A mission-minded church perceives mission merely as one expression of its ministry, but a missional church perceives mission as the essence of its existence.
Get to know your community. Compare your church population with that of your surrounding community to assess your church’s current effectiveness in penetrating its mission field. Learn what needs community members have, and decide to offer your church’s resources to help meet them.
Ask some members some key questions. Enlist some members of your congregation (preferably a mix of newer and older members, and including at least one youth and one young adult). Then ask them to respond to these questions: “How does your church help you be transformed into the image of Christ?”, “Through which means does our church prepare you to carry out God’s mission?”, and “How does our church best glorify God?”. Discuss their answers, and brainstorm how disciples can transfer their learning, skills, insights, and values into the world and how they can bring experiences and skills from the world into the church.
Be church and be changed. Understand that what drives missional churches is a unified passion expressed through four dimensions: loving God by worshiping and obeying, living His mission by serving and sharing, loving people by embracing and inviting them, and leading them to follow by equipping and empowering them. Practice throughout each week what you preach on Sundays.
Have a high threshold for membership. Don’t make membership a casual thing at your church. Strive for a unified community of members who take their faith seriously. Clearly communicate your church’s expectations for members, and let potential members communicate their expectations of the church. Strive to have significant numbers of seekers identify your church as their faith community. Have various entry points through which new members can become part of your church, and describe them to potential members. Let people know the benefits of membership. Ask members to hold each other accountable for living faithfully. Reach out to nominal church members and encourage them to live out their faith in deeper ways.
Be real, not religious. Show authenticity in faith by being authentic with one another at church and acting authentically in the world. Validate your church’s message by your actions in your community. Don’t wear masks with one another; be honest and open in your relationships. Make it a goal for people in the community to see your church as vital. Encourage your members to trust each other enough to confess their sin. Incorporate members into small groups for growth and accountability. Prioritize member involvement with unchurched people. Make it easy in your church’s culture for people to admit unanswered questions about their faith.
Teach to obey rather than to know. Missional churches aren’t satisfied simply to transfer biblical knowledge. Their goal is members’ obedience to spiritual revelation. They understand that it’s not what they know, but what they live that counts. They equip believers, practice “applied Christianity,” have a high regard for the Bible, help members learn obedience through spiritual disciplines (Bible study, meditation, prayer, fasting, solitude, submission, service, simplicity, worship, confession, celebration, and guidance) and use a variety of methods to reach people. They partner new believers with existing members in learning relationships. They challenge members to be responsible in their obedience to God. They equip members to apply Bible knowledge to real-life situations. Members hold one accountable for obeying God’s Word.
Rewrite worship every week. Design worship to exalt God, not to entertain people. Keep your worship fresh by making it highly participatory, creative, and focused on content rather than form. Also remember that worship is more than words; design your worship services to engage each of the five senses. Encourage members to contribute their talents to your church’s worship. Routinely incorporate new ideas or methods into your worship services. Emphasize members’ personal experiences in God’s presence.
Live apostolically. Remember that you and all believers in your church called by God to share His good news in the world. Identify population segments in your local area with which your church currently has little or no relationship. Then create a strategy for connecting with those groups. Encourage your members to think of themselves as missionaries. Have them routinely introduce new believers to faith in Jesus, interpret contemporary culture through biblical guidance, and participate in secular social groups to build authentic relationships with those outside your church. Seek to have your church transform the community in which you live, and help transform the global community as well.
Expect to change the world. Understand that mission begins with relationships and is expressed in a “glocal” community (one in which few barriers remain to communicating with people internationally). Ask your members to think and pray about their primary mission fields (the spheres in which they have the largest number of ongoing relationships with unchurched people). After they identify the people in their primary mission fields, encourage members to develop strategies for drawing those people closer to Jesus. Seek to make a major difference in the world. Have a vital prayer ministry to focus on updated mission concerns. Intentionally cultivate global relationships. During worship services, regularly emphasize members’ missionary involvement. Encourage your members to participate in short-term mission projects.
Order actions according to purpose. Know your church’s purpose, and write a clear statement of it. Check that members’ and staff’s actions are based on that purpose. Let go of whatever doesn’t serve your church’s purpose. Schedule only events that help you accomplish your church’s purpose. Keep your programs flexible, leaving room for God to direct changes. Celebrate the start and close of ministries. Make sure that items in your budget reflect your missional priorities, and that your programs and ministries give evidence of your commitment to excellence. Decide that you would rather lose a prospective church member than violate your church’s purpose.
Measure growth by capacity to release, not retain. Remember that your church growth goal shouldn’t be simply to get bigger; it should be to equip more people to live as authentic disciples of Jesus. Instead of focusing on numerical growth on your membership rolls, focus on sending people out into the community to serve. Depend on God’s unlimited supply of energy to grow naturally. View your church as a mission-sending agency of God’s design. Equip leaders to reach new generations and start new churches or ministries. Develop an aggressive plan for starting new community ministries and churches. Move new believers into leadership roles. Regularly commission members who are going into ministry.
Place kingdom concerns first. View your church as only one battalion of a great kingdom force deployed on earth. See other Christians of other denominations as your brothers and sisters who are serving the same master. Distinguish between essentials and nonessentials in doctrinal interpretation, value and cooperate with Christians from other denominations in kingdom tasks, and join together in spiritual warfare against the enemy. Partner with other churches in your community to complete joint service projects. Share the pain and joy of Christians around the world. Regularly pray for other churches in your local area. Encourage your members to participate in interdenominational ministries.
Keep trying. Realize that the process of transforming your church into a missional one will take a while. Accept any failure as a step toward success by learning from it and moving on.
Adapted from Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches by Milfred Minatrea, copyright 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, Ca., www.josseybass.com.
Milfred Minatrea is the director of the Missional Church Center for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He served as pastor of several churches before becoming a highly sought-after church consultant. Minatrea desires to be an authentic disciple of Jesus and enjoys walking with others on that spiritual journey.