Be Missional … but Be Careful

As an instructor at Wesley Seminary (Marion, Ind.), I teach a class called “The Missional Church.” It is a joy to see lights go on in the hearts of students when they consider the priority of believers to share the message—and experience—of God’s love beyond the walls of their church.

The “missional movement” is bringing many church leaders to the important realization that Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their world.

I have observed, however, that after reading books by missional authors and viewing videos of missional teachers, some students seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is, they conclude that the ultimate goal of a “missional church” is to go into the community to do good works in the name of Christ and the expansion of “the Kingdom.”

And whether these needy folks ever come to faith, and membership in a local church, is not a criteria to define “success” in their missional endeavors.

For example, a missionally inclined blogger recently lit into Andy Stanley’s “5-million-dollar bridge.” North Point Community Church, a church known for its commitment to outreach and evangelism, has grown to the point where parking has become problematic.

Stanley told his parishioners of the need to ease traffic congestion by constructing a bridge off of the main thoroughfare into the church. His letter to members included the following paragraph:

Is it [the bridge] worth it? It all depends. If our mission is to be a church that’s perfectly designed for the people who already attend, then we don’t need a bridge. But if we want to continue to be a church unchurched people love to attend, then yes, it’s worth it. From my perspective, this is not a “nice to have” option. Honestly, I don’t want to raise money for, or give money to, something that’s not mission critical. I believe creating a second access point allows us to stay on mission.

It seems obvious that Stanley’s commitment, as pastor, is to make disciples and assimilate them into the local church.

But the missional blogger responds:

This makes me sick. This is completely unmissional. Missional churches are not attractional churches. Missional churches send out their parishioners as missionaries to the world, not bring them to church over a 5-million-dollar edifice set up to speed up their exit and entry.

In their zeal to create the Kingdom of God in the world, some who “buy into” the missional movement seem to have (or develop) a bias against the established church. Their commitment is to “bring the Kingdom of God into the community.”

But the success of those kingdom-building efforts does not seem to be evaluated on whether those who are exposed to “the Kingdom” are ever reached and assimilated into active membership and participation in a local church.

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charlesarn@churchleaders.com'
Charles Arn is Visiting Professor of Outreach at the new Wesley Seminary (Marion, IN). He has written twelve books in the field of congregational health and growth, including What Every Pastor Should Know (2013) and Side Door (2013).