what a missional church is and is not

I want your help to make a list defining what a missional church is– but thought it might be helpful to also make some boundaries by defining what a missional church is notMissional might still be a new word for some of you.  It’s a great word that reflects what churches are supposed to do and be.  I like it better than "emerging" or "inherited" or "traditional" or "progressive" – or a myriad of other adjectives being used out there today.  Missional implies some special distinctives for a local church. 

So I’m hoping you’ll take a few moments to consider what you might add to this list?  Would love for everyone to get in the game here.  Leave a comment adding to one/both of these lists.  Feel free to explain your definition- or just to leave it simple.  Thanks for participating!

A missional church is…

  • Trinity-driven
  • global and local
  • prayer-driven
  • relevant to the culture around them
  • always reforming
  • pointing people towards God’s Kingdom
  • ??
  • ??

A missional church is not…

  • a building
  • a service
  • something you go to
  • the same as God’s Kingdom
  • ??
  • ??


  1. Thanks for the volleyball/coach analogy. Each person is essential, each person is relying upon the others, each person is participating.
    Incarnational- a fantastic word that has brought us salvation. If the church is to reflect Jesus, and if the church is Jesus’ body, then we MUST BE incarnational- the Word made flesh. Thanks for drawing this out Paul. This is a huge foundational concept of a true church.

  2. Well Kenner, these two areas are more about questions for me right now than they are about answers…but here are some thoughts.
    Part of my understanding of a participational church is gleaned from some personal experience as both a player and then a coach for volleyball teams. The coach is responsible to train and equip the team, but when it comes time to play ball, the coach sits on the bench. Yes, they call time outs, make substitutions and give advice, but they don’t win the game, the team does. In that sense, the coach is “behind the scenes”; a servant leader.
    What would a church be like if it commissioned its pastors to be coaches? Sure, they would preach often, but would they be necessary for all the ministries to happen? In volleyball each player is responsible for a certain pat of the game at differing points during the game. One player cannot touch the ball more than once, but rather must depend on others to pass, set, and even spike the ball. No coach could ever replace the team, because the coach could only touch the ball once! How many pastors are trying to play volleyball with only one touch; that they have one chance to make it happen? I know, illustrations break down at many levels, but this is something that I have personally experienced and also brought into pastoral ministry and experienced much success.
    An incarnational church lowers the walls between “us” and “them.” Such churches find ways to encourage good in the community because Jesus did; that he healed people without and before they “believed”…and some never believed! The rich young ruler was quite possibly interested, and even honestly curious about how he could be saved, but when Jesus told him the truth he went away sad…and Jesus didn’t chase him! Very few times did Jesus start conversations with people (woman at the well is one of a few exceptions), but rather, people wanted to speak, to be around, and to touch Jesus. Some followed, others watched, and many doubted. But Jesus engaged anyone who showed interest along his life path…and the kingdom of God was at hand in every circumstance. How could our churches be more incarnational? I think it begins with being intentional about not being overly intentional. By that I simply mean we don’t have agenda’s where expectations are so high that we miss the everyday opportunities that may arise.
    Obviously there are many more points to consider, but those are a few for now.
    I’m reminded right now of how thankful I am, ken, to have met you and continue conversations such as this on a regular basis. Thanks man.

  3. Wow Paul! Good stuff! Highlighting your comment above: obedience to God, care for people, participatory (including shared leadership, incarnational (fantastic! We should unpack this idea a lot more!), scandalous (in a Jesus type way, not a hypocrite way), creative equipping/training for everybody, and Communion (as a meal) as a defining marker in the community. Thanks Paul! I’d love to draw out some more from the particpatory and incarnational points especially.

  4. Andrew- I agree that honesty is very important. No flippancy in regards to our care for one another. Listening to people’s hearts, rather than just getting a social “hi” in once a week is essential. Thanks Andrew.

  5. Hey Marc, you wrote: “In the pursuit of spiritual growth and the discovery of truth, it is not afraid to be, and to acknowledge being, wrong. That is, it has a humble integrity.” This is a really important comment. Any church that becomes convinced of it’s own authority becomes arrogant. Truth is based in Jesus. It doesn’t originate from us. So we are always to be seeking after Jesus. Humility, integrity = Necessary for a church. Thanks!

  6. Andrew, in your first comment you mention that a missional church doesn’t forget its roots. I personally love this concept. We have to recognize our continuity with the past… including dealing with the ancient & recent sins as well as championing the missional work before us. We are nothing new under the sun today… we are a part of God’s continuing movement through history to declare his Kingdom. Thanks Andrew.

  7. Freida, great questions! “Evangelistic” could be a very similar term- especially in the way you’ve described it. But you’re also right that “missional” implies a fuller aspect to what church is. I suppose in this way, “evangelistic” will be a major part of a “missional” church.
    And I appreciate your observation that a new word won’t change people’s hearts. God’s Word and his Spirit do that. Couldn’t agree more. Hopefully a “missional” type church would place this first and foremost in their identity.
    As for evaluating… hmmm. Any ideas?

  8. Before I can begin to respond to your question, I need some clarification. What is the difference between being evangelistic and being missional? My understanding is that evangelism means spreading the gospel, whether in word and/or deed, and it is often very intentional. Does missional have a broader meaning; ie. evangelism, and…..eg. serving each other, worshiping, teaching, equipping, etc.???
    Another comment from an “old person” – I don’t think we need new words like “missional” and “intentional” to think outside of the box or to change how we do things. New words don’t change people’s hearts, thoughts, motivations. What changes us is reading God’s word, and being open to what God has to say to us, and obeying it. God’s word is revolutionary, not our “new words”.
    By the way, once you have a definition of what a missional church is, how would you accurately evaluate whether a church is missional or not? When I look at some of the aspects you have listed, I think it could be difficult to get a consensus from people whether their church met those criteria. It could be quite subjective.
    Just a few random thoughts….

  9. A missional church is honest and stresses honesty. Not just the type of honesty where we tell the truth, but the type where we open up and reveal what we wouldn’t normally. More than that, the type of honesty where people are only going to ask questions they genuinely want answers to. If you are having a bad day, or week or month, when someone asks how you are doing it is expected that they will hear that,not the typical Fine, or Good we usually shed.

  10. A missional church is not deemed successful based on converts, but rather on obedience to it’s calling; namely, that it helps people encounter the person and presence of Jesus, embrace His truth, experience new life and engage others with and through the kingdom (presence and power of Jesus as experienced on earth) through intentional relationships.
    A missional church is committed more to people than to programs; that programs emerge as peoples’ needs are made obvious and are complete when those needs are met. Thus, programs are always held lightly and may only last a short time, while others may continue for longer.
    A missional church is more participatory driven than observationally structured. This applies to how we do our teaching and shared leadership.
    A missional church is incarnational more than it is attractional. Those who need Jesus should not be attracted to a missional church because of what it offers, but rather who it offers; that people within the missional church are effectively engaging people in their community with the love and presence of Jesus that those not-yet-believing people are attracted to God and His family.
    A missional church should only be foolish in the sense that people who are not interested in Jesus should only be so because of the scandal of the cross, not because of our actions or the way we attempt evangelism. If the family of God is so great, and God’s riches in grace are so wonderful, then those who claim to have experienced it should be effectively lighting up their communities to the fact, not drawing a shadow of avoidance to their local expression of Christ’s presence through his body.
    A missional church should offer creative training whereby working people can be equipped effectively without having to take time off to go to bible college or seminary.
    A missional church should embrace the Lord’s table as central to its community life and integral at its dinner table with family and friends at home.
    Those are a few things that come to mind for now…

  11. In the pursuit of spiritual growth and the discovery of truth, it is not afraid to be, and to acknowledge being, wrong. That is, it has a humble integrity.

  12. a missional church does not forget its roots. Where it came from, where the church is from, etc.
    a missional church also recognizes it is a part of a larger global body, being Christ’s body and is willing to unite and work with those from other places to achieve Christ’s aims for thie earth in this time.
    a missional church is not boring.

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