Missional Church: Cool or Costly?

“Missional Church” lingo has, let’s face it, given church leaders like us a language that makes us appear hip, rad, trendy, dope, and cool. Too many church leaders are jumping onto the coolness bandwagon of the missional church movement without seriously reflecting, I’m afraid, on the cost. As far as I can tell, a missional church is neither cool nor clever but courageously committed to the cost involved in such an ecclesiological conviction.      

There is nothing glamorous about being a missional church. The impact of these churches may never show up on a statistical report since most churches track only those attendees who come into the building and not those who go out in service to the community. Becoming a missional church means giving financial and volunteer resources away to the community, even if it means a lean budget and personnel for church-based programs. Furthermore, a church that begins to look outward to serve the needs of people beyond the walls of the church will experience an increased level of stress and strain. No, this move toward mission is not cool at all. Why, then, would any church decide to go missional? Because the very word defines the character of the Father who sends the Son and the Spirit in order to send the Church out into the world to be ‘glocal’ (global and local) missionaries.

Think about it. The Trinitarian God did not stay in His holy huddle of three waiting for us to come to Him. The Father sent the Son onto our turf. The Son “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and the cost for God was substantial. Not too long after that, the Father sends out the Spirit to a bunch of fearful Christian Jews who are congregated in another kind of huddle, disconnected from and fearful of people outside of the Christian faith. But when the Spirit comes the Church goes. In other words, from Acts 2 and following, the Early Church gets missional. They start serving the poor, feeding the hungry, liberating captives, and healing the hurting in the name of Jesus. The missional church movement is not some new and original trend; it’s as old as that first Pentecost.

Like the Early Church in Acts, the Wesleyan Church has its roots in the missional movement. John Wesley, like most of his contemporaries, spent lots of time in the church building, so much so that he was disconnected from the desperate needs of people in his community. However, when the Spirit came to “warm” his heart, Wesley went out. He got missional! He began to go out to the poor drunk masses of English society who weren’t welcome in the church, a church led and controlled predominantly by the rich Anglican elite. Wesley took the stuff that makes the church, the “church,” to the streets. He got caught up in the missio dei, the “mission of God” in the world, and partnered with God to do what God has always been doing. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” and any church that is truly “Christian” will incarnate the good news of Christ by venturing out of our safe and predictable holy huddle to dwell among broken people on their turf. “There is no holiness but social holiness,” wrote Wesley, and he practiced this in a manner that cost him significantly.

If you are still reading then you just might be crazy enough to roll up your sleeves and get missional. This is good! Now it’s time to consider some of the practical applications of our theological convictions. While your unique community context will determine the specifics, here are some of start-up costs for churches wanting to become missional:

-Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Commit to spending at least as much money on the practical needs of people in your community as you do on your worship service. Monitors and new microphones are important. Cutting edge technology can, in my estimation, enhance the quality of a worship experience. However, a missional church decides that when push comes to shove they will pay the electric bill so that a family of five can have heat in January even if it means postponing the purchase of that much needed monitor. Other missional expenditures might include a food pantry, a clothing drive for the homeless, and an ongoing benevolence fund for people with financial emergencies.

-Volunteer Outside of the Church: Every church deals with the challenge of begging, I mean recruiting, enough volunteers to serve in church-based programs (usually children’s ministry!). So, the following advice may seem counter-intuitive. Encourage your congregation to volunteer a portion of their time through community service organizations that are meeting the needs of people in the community. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Habitat for Humanity, Women’s Resources, and Soup Kitchens are just a few of the volunteer possibilities that may exist in your community. Get involved in global issues too, such as fighting human trafficking in Thailand, offering disaster relief in Haiti, and providing clean water in Zambia. Our sacrificial service in the name of Jesus will proclaim that Jesus is Lord beyond our words. Church leaders, remember to celebrate the service of those who volunteer outside of the church as much as you appreciate those who serve in church-based ministries.

-Become a Hospitable Hospital: A low-cost, low-energy step toward becoming a missional church is opening your doors to share space with people meeting community needs. Many service organizations are experiencing a funding crunch due, in part, to our nation’s economic struggles and political policy revisions. Why not invite these organizations to utilize your church building…for free! Invite recovery groups (Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Grief Recovery) and support groups (Cancer Survivors, Victims of Domestic Violence, Easter Seals) to utilize your church building. This, too, may seem counter-intuitive but it will go a long way in communicating that your church cares for the community. What is more, as people who don’t attend your church show up for a recovery or support group they just might become so comfortable in the building that they venture into your weekend worship service.     

The bottom line is that missional churches share their resources (money, people, facility) to meet the real needs of real people in the name of the real Jesus. The church I most recently served grew significantly, in terms of attendance, but that was not the goal. The goal was to be the church in the world by embodying the values of an eternal King who came onto our turf as a peasant Jew. People were attracted to our church not because of some marketing strategy, concert, or elaborate facility. God can use strategies, concerts, and facilities for His glorious purposes. The church I served, however, experienced increased vitality, momentum, and growth simply because we decided to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and liberate the addicted and afflicted in the name of Jesus. So can your church, as long as you’re willing to forsake coolness and endure the cost.

Lenny Luchetti

  • Charles Arn

    Very helpful thoughts, Dr. Luchetti. Definitely required reading in the “Missional Church” course from here on!

    Reading your comments reminded me of Luke 9:23: “Then [Jesus] told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all” (The Message).

    I would love to hear some conversation on two questions that come to mind:

    1. Is the difference between a HELPFUL church in a community … and a MISSIONAL church? If so, what is it?

    2. How does one measure a SUCCESSFUL missional church?

  • B. Whitesel

    I appreciate the conversation too, though I think that Missional “warnings” send the wrong message (as have “evangelical” warnings in Christian Century magazine). While I understand the intent, the result is often a ground swell of pushback from valid terminology. I know some in our Wesleyan movement will latch onto such warnings, publicizing such admonitions over the answers. Our Holiness tradition has been fraught with flight from validity because of cautions.

    Rather I believe the growth of our movement lies in better defining our participation in the missio Dei and doing so in more Biblical terms. Toward that end I agree with Dr.s Luchetti and Arn that a measurement tool other than attendance is required. In fact, the Church Growth Movement has always suggested a more organic metric for measurement be utilized based upon Acts 2:42-47. Kent Hunter and I reemphasized these four measurement tools in 2000 and I dedicated chapters to these metrics in 2004, 2006 and 2011. I am glad our students all are required to compute their Composite Maturation Number, their Community Perception Number and their Growth in Congregational Unity as exercises in our courses. At a recent meeting with our General Superintendent Dr. JoAnne Lyon expressed her enthusiasm, as Dr.s Arn, Luchetti and myself do, for new metrics for tracking church growth. This can fulfill Dr Luchetti’s (and my) hope for a church that measures what counts.

  • Lenny Luchetti

    Drs. Arn and Whitesel raise some good questions, which I hope will be addressed by students who pop onto the site:-)

    Dr. Arn, Dr. Whitesel answered your second question, so I will tackle your first one. I see and resonate with the tension behind your question. Your concern is valid. There can be a huge difference between simply meeting community needs and partnering with God in the missio Dei, the mission of God. Since I suspect most, not all, of our students have been influenced by evangelicals (not necessarily a bad word, by the way), I want to be sure to stress the importance of incarnating the good news of Christ not just with our words but with our social action. If I were addressing another group, perhaps some of our mainline friends, I would emphasize not only the importance of embodying the Gospel through our actions but also with our words of truth about Jesus. At the end of the day, the missio dei involves both proclamation (words) and incarnation (social action). These are like a reese’s peanut butter cup- two great tastes that taste great together. More importantly, one without the other would lead toward a lopsided gospel or, to borrow from Ron sider, one-sided Christianity.
    Blessings,
    Lenny

  • Greg Teegarden

    Lenny,

    Great way to invite “tradition” churches into the “missional” movement. Just a small correction: John Wesley was always missional even before his, “his heart was strangley warm.” It didn’t take getting saved to know God’s passion for mankind.

    God Bless,

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Hey Greg. Wesley, an Anglican minister, actually left the traditional church of his day because it was not ministering to the poor drunk masses of English society during the Industrial Revolution. The Anglican Church, during Wesley’s day, had become a social club for the English elite and inhospitable toward the poor. Becoming “missional” for Wesley meant leaving the church building to bring the church to the poor.
      Thanks for entering the discussion,
      Lenny

  • B. Whitesel

    Good points everyone;

    And, as we all know, Wesley went outside of the church’s stone fences (still visible at UK churches, such as St Tom’s in Sheffield) to minister to the needy, but he also never left the Anglican Church, seeking to stay and reform it. In fact, while touring his home in London with Wesley Seminary students we learned he never held services that conflicted with the times of Anglican services. He always sought for the Wesleyan Connextion to result in a refocusing and renewal movement (as I hope the Missional movement will be as well 🙂

    BTW, two of our Wesley Seminary students are Anglican pastors, and asked (with tongues firmly planted in their cheeks) if they too could get the Wesleyan discount to attend Wesley Seminary. That was the only time I saw our admissions representative lost for an answer 😉

  • Phil Brown

    I know that Dr. Whitesel already answered question #2 from Dr. Arn, but I’m going to take a crack at it as well.
    I’m familiar with Dr. Whitesel’s numeric metrics (CMN, CPN and GPU) from taking his course on the multi-generational church, and they are all valid measurements for the missional church to consider, but I think there are also other ways to determine whether we’re successfully being missional in our own local contexts.
    1. People are experiencing salvation through Christ.
    I know this sort of touches on question #1, and I agree with Dr. Luchetti on this one. For us to be truly MISSIONal, people have to be hearing the good news about Jesus as we meet their needs and serve them (peanut butter and chocolate are so much better together). If we are truly missional and not just helpful, people should be coming to Christ. Our actions should be giving legs to our message and the result of that should be people in our community coming to an understanding that our faith in Christ is worthwhile and something they want for themselves. If our missional activities are not meeting the spiritual needs of our community along with the physical, social, etc., we have to think about whether our efforts could better be spent another way. John Piper puts it this way: “we exist to relieve all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” If we find ourselves only relieving the temporary suffering of earth with no opportunity to relieve eternal suffering, we’re not really embodying what missional is about, even if the community loves us.
    2. Our church members should be finding creative missional opportunities on their own.
    As pastors and church leaders, we should definitely be leading the way, modeling a missional lifestyle for our congregations and providing opportunities for them to experiment with missional activity. However, for us to really feel that a missional mindset has taken root in our churches, these missional activities should begin to multiply and come from the congregation rather than the leadership. When our people truly latch on to missional living, they won’t rely solely on pastors and leaders to point out chances to join up with God, they’ll see them without us.
    There are certainly more ways to measure our effectiveness in this area, but these two jumped out at me.
    Phil

  • The word “missional” is still relatively new to my vocabulary, although I am currently a part of Dr. Arn’s Missional Class. In participating in the class, I’ve found that our church already does some missional things, but we haven’t been very intentional with it. For example, for years we’ve had a food closet for needy families, but I didn’t know that made us “missional”. It just seemed like the right thing for a church to do.
    I also understand that we, as pastors, tend to be extreme people. We see a new idea or hear a new word and we run with it. And, in that process, at times we can throw the baby out with the bath water. We lean so heavily toward this new idea that we stop doing the things we’ve already been doing well.
    It seems to me that the biggest danger with “missional” thinking is in losing balance. I absolutely want to be meeting practical needs of those outside the church, but that doesn’t mean that I have to neglect meeting the needs of those who are already in the church.

  • Lenny Luchetti

    Phil and Mike, great to have you guys join in the discussion. Thanks for the thoughtful, balanced approach you bring to the discussion.
    Lenny

  • John Campbell

    Dr. Luchetti,

    I don’t care about being hip or rad, but can’t I at least be dope?? I am joking and I thank you for your post. My favorite part was your practical ideas of application, particularly your section on becoming a “Hospitable Hospital.” I have heard churches referred to as “Members Only Country Clubs”. How dare someone who is not a member, who is possibly unkempt, struggling with an addiction, or generally hurting enter our pristine cathedral? I believe that this is a viewpoint of the church that exists and that is very damaging. Opening the buildings that God has blessed us with to the people God loves and cares for would be an incredible tool in breaking down that viewpoint of the church.

  • Jason Coffman

    Greetings to all in this discussion. The Missio Dei in many American churches has been lost. We cannot sugar coat or be politically correct about this fact. However, there are many pastors who long to see their churches grow and make an impact being incarnational to the world around them. In my own experience, I have been affected to the core of my being as I respond to the impact of the Gospel, yet there are those times when I look around and say; “where do I start, where can I make a difference?” I wonder what would happen if what is taking place at Wesley Seminary could be integrated at a more local level? The hearts and minds of the Professors and students evoke a hunger in me to live missionally, but also give me a place to start, a place to begin. Thanks to all at Wesley!

  • Great post Dr. Luchetti!

    I do wonder about opening our building for “everything”. Are we just trying to get “traffic” into the church? Or are we truly invested in “seeking and saving the lost”, like Jesus? My questions relate to the idea of hosting programs like A.A. that simply allude to a higher power. Should there be a pre-requiste for christian programming? Or should we think more like “community centers”? A church in our area recently built a fitness center on its property with “cheap rates” to lure people from the surrounding neighborhood? I also think of all the guys that I have played softball with for years in church leagues that still have never visited a church service and drink and cuss as much as ever. Is a missional mindset really a new idea if it is simply opening up our events and buildings to the lost world? Wesley seemed much more confrontational with his evangelistic efforts and intense discipleship.

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Thanks for your questions Shannon. They are important ones. I realize that opening the doors is not the final step min evangelistic efforts. I view opening the doors for NA (Narcotics Anonymous) is one link in the chain that may bring people into the life of the church and ultimately to Christ. The church I served saw a decent number of people from these recovery programs enter into the life of our church. One of those people not only became a believer but is actually a member on our Local Church Board. Once people begin to feel comfortable in your building and get a sense of your church’s heart for the community they will begin to pop into services, first for Christmas Eve and Easter, and hopefully give their lives to Christ. It seems to me that we live in a day when evangelism needs to start a few links back in the chain that leads people to Christ. Maybe a generation ago, you could start your evangelistic efforts with a conversation about God or “if you die today do you think you would end up in heaven” but not anymore, at least not in the Northeast context where I served. People need to trust a church, to see a church as givers not takers before some of them will ever attend. You’re right to make sure that a church’s ultimate goal is to bring people into an eternal, life-giving relationship with Christ. I’m convinced, however, that we need to begin the achievement of that goal at a basic level of meeting peoples’ needs in the name of Jesus and building a relationship of trust with them.
      Lenny

  • Ben Walters

    Lenny,

    Thanks for your posting and thoughtful insight into the missional church. I know Dr. Arn has already started the questioning so I don’t feel too bad in pushing back a little.

    In view of your posting and other materials that I have read, I tend to find a common tread of begging of lay people. Churches both modern and missional are still begging of them financially to support outreaches, begging for their bodies to do activities, and begging for their understanding to be opened to a different approach of ministry. Our begging is still there it has just taken a different approach and is now covered with a different tone.

    The missional church is cool and costly but it still wrestles with the same issues as our modern day churches do. If only the missional church could see outreach and inward training of believers (discipleship) as a balance that needs to happen for real missions to occur. Then we wouldn’t have to beg our lay people to be missional it would already be a part of their foundation.

    Just my thoughts…

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Thanks for entering in the discussion, Ben. I’m glad you brought up the balance between outreach and discipleship. I actually believe the best way to help disciples grow is not merely to give them more information through a class but give them an opportunity to serve through mission. I have watched people sit in class after class without much apparent growth. As pastors we have to foster ways for the stuff in the head to move into the heart and then out of the hands through mission. In short, the best way for the church to grow long-time Christians is to get them partnering with God in mission.
      Lenny

  • Nate Barnell

    Dr. Luchetti,

    After reading through your post and comments I have a question of extremes. When I was reading your specific post I was thinking about the emergent church and how this movement is starting to mesh with the missional movement. The reason I bring this up is because I don’t think that the missional movement is just another extreme in the mix. The missional movement if anything is attempting to live out the incarnation. However, there still is a stigma to the missional movement. My question is how does your church become a missional movement with keeping balance to God’s plan for humanity and not just becoming another extreme?

    Another thought, the missional church is still an idea or an interpretation that is central to the message of Jesus. With that being the case, do you think that there will be another idea/movement like missional sometime in the future? Understanding that I am not asking for a new idea just curious if missional is a trend (culturally, not in the bible), then it might resort back to another idea once the trend is up.

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Hey Nate. I’m not sure I totally understand your questions but, in reading between the lines, I think I “get” your concerns. There are lots of groups out there using missional language, again, because it’s a somewhat cool or trendy ecclesiology these days. As I mention in the article the missional church movement is not a new phenomenon but one that is as old as the early church in Acts. Essentially, when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost the church become primarily a “let’s go out to reach people by loving and serving them in the name of Jesus” kind of movement. The reason why this seems like a somewhat new trend is because the church over the past several decades primarily became a “let’s do our best to get them to come to us” kind of movement. I have nothing against people being attracted to the worship services or events of a local church. Attractional methods still reach people with the good news of Christ. However, if my discernment radar is correct, there are growing numbers of people who will not come to the church unless the church goes out to them in mission. I could be wrong, but I think this trend (attractional approaches waning and missional approaches increasing) will continue in our culture which is becoming increasingly Post-Christian for sure. Interestingly, in other contexts that have for a long time been missional the church has grown substantial (i.e. Africa, Latin America and Asia). With the growth and popularity of Christianity and the church in these foreign contexts, they can get away with a primarily attractional approach.
      Lenny

      • Glenn Whitt

        Dr. Luchetti

        I have read your post and really appreciate it. I do have one comment concerning the above reply to Nate’s post that you submitted.

        As I read, I began recalling the history of several church denominations and how they grew within the US. There was a lot of missionary activities throughout the various areas of what became the US and Canada, which I believe contributed significantly to their growth. As the churches became firmly established as denominations creating a kind of bureaucracy, many of the church started moving away from missionary movements and became institutionalized within the US while moving the missionary movements overseas into Africa, Asia and down into Latin America.

        These churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America have been experience much growth in double digit growth rates while most denominations in the US appear to experience slower growth or are having negative growth.

        I now wonder, with the churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America experiencing the same kind of growth that once was realized here in North America, if those same churches will reach a point when they will follow the same trend and institutionalize. In fact, in my own denomination, I am seeing some evidence of that occurring already. We have a shortage of pastors here in the US, not because of growth, but because people are not as interesting in the professional pastoral ministry as they used to be (combined with economic stress at an all time high to support their salaries). There appears to be a rise in foreign national pastors and missionaries with missionary visas and Green Cards issued by the US or Canadian immigration service. I do not know exactly why they are serving here in the US instead of their home countries where, because of exponentially higher growth, the shortage is even greater. But the interesting thing I have noticed is that it is that many congregations that are being headed by these foreign-born pastors tend to be more missional than many others.

  • Great thoughts, Dr. Luchetti on a challenging subject. I’m currently in Dr. Arn’s Missional Church course and we are wrestling together with a lot of the same issues. I think it’s safe to say that no one has definitive answers or a “how-to” guide on becoming a missional church. Cultural distinctives and a congregation’s collective potential determine so much of how a church shifts to a missional mode of operation! Take your example of “becoming a hospitable hospital.” This was an effective missional method at my last pastorate because we had a permanent building with a gymnasium attached. That’s simply not possible at my current church, which is a church plant meeting in a rented middle school cafeteria. For us, we’re really looking into partnerships with existing organizations as you mentioned and focusing my preaching and teaching on missional day-to-day living among our members.

    I’d like to get your thoughts on this, however: I don’t think that shifting to a missional mindset means that we have to devote significantly less of everything to our Sunday morning experience, necessarily. “Missional” does not equal, “unattractive.” And that’s the problem I sense many of my fellow pastors encountering. We’ve seen it at my current position, as the last pastor read “Simple Church” and decided that we were going to “strip everything down” and focusing on “being missional” instead of “attractional.” That’s a good goal, but who says that this is an either/or proposition? I think it’s important to realize that we live in a consumer-driven culture. And if we’re serious about reaching those furthest from God, we’ve got to reach them where they are. And where they are is in a “consumer” way of thinking and behaving. If we devote, as you suggest, as much money to mission as we have to our “in house” ministries, we’re not going to be able to sustain excellence in those ministries. And I can say from experience that if a congregation doesn’t have an excellent children’s ministry (for example), that congregation will not be able to reach those “consumers” who expect as much from a church. Is this right? Maybe not. But is it reality? Yes, it is.

    Perhaps you can speak into my concern with your experience with a missional church that grew and had “success.”

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Stephen, I concur with your thoughts on the necessity of being both missional and attractional. If a church becomes missional beyond the campus of the church building, that church will attract people to herself. When people come to the church there needs to be faithful and fruitful programs of ministry for children, etc. in order to disciple these new believers. My only two caveats to this are as follows: First, the church should not put the cart of attraction before the horse of mission. That is, the church needs to focus on mission not exclusively but primarily. Secondly, when push comes to shove regarding attractional expenditures (new lights, upgraded sound board, etc) vs. missional expenditures (putting a homeless guy up in a hotel for a few nights, stocking the food pantry, paying a single mom’s electric bill) it seems to me the church should go with the missional priority.
      Blessings,
      Lenny

  • gmashburn

    Dr. Whitesel:

    Indeed! I’m still waiting for an answer about that discount for us Anglican priests!

    Dr. Luchetti:

    I really appreciated the post. I recently took the helm of a rapidly growing mission parish that was established last May. The people of the parish are amazingly generous and missionally focused. Last month I took our Vestry through a Saturday retreat focused on Ed Stetzer’s “Breaking the Missional Code.” One of the primary realities to wrap our hearts and brains around is that the missional church is a huge change of culture for many people. It takes time to change the cultural mindset of parishes in order to BE the Church…missionally. It is both taught and caught. Thanks for your post. I will send this out to our Vestry.

    Fr. Greg

    Fr. Gregory Mashburn, OFM
    Vicar
    Christ our Hope Anglican Church
    Dayton, OH

    Minister General
    Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Compassion