The “new church” trend of the last few years is the shift from an “Attractional” to a “Missional” model. The differences could be understood this way:
Attractional vs. Missional
Life in Christ Life in Christ together
Felt Need Community Need
Come and See Go and Be
This list in no way captures the full essence and subtle nuances of each model, but perhaps it helps to formulate a working understanding.
While there are many definitions of Missional Communities, launching new faith communities with the MC Model generally follows the principle that evangelistic discipleship precedes large corporate worship. The assumption that worship primarily happens in large corporate gatherings is rejected, or subjected at least to the proposition that all disciples are ministers and should actively lead worship, study and reach out as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (Ephesians 4). Disciples don’t sit passively and let the professional clergy hoard the offices, but rather fully participate and live into the meaning of “kingdom of priests.” Disciples reached through MC’s may live out the majority of their church experience away from a typical church building, and that’s okay. It was okay for the New Testament and Early Church. MC’s still worship God, they just do so primarily in smaller groups, and secondarily in large gatherings. They just primarily experience worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, and missions in mid-sized groups of 25-50 that tend to be more home-based. Instead of doing church once a week, they do Jesus-life together in almost every facet.
As Jesus was primarily concerned with creating a discipling culture over Temple rituals; as John Wesley emphasized the “Class” mtg as the primary environment for the formation of holiness of heart and life; so MC’s follow that pattern. Rather than spending lots of money initially trying to attract the masses to a church launch, then spending lots of ministry energy trying to move those consumers into a program of discipleship, MC’s start by creating a small discipling culture/movement, which multiplies and eventually emerges as a church. Then regular Gatherings serve as a means of sacramental grace, time of testimony, vision-casting, and celebration for all that God is doing, especially in the primary church venue–home-based MC’s.
Earlier this year I was thinking about the ineffectiveness of launching churches with the previous model in some of our recent church starts. Honestly, I was struggling with a great deal of frustration over the issue. Then two things happened that explained a lot! I read Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, about the cataclysmic change in marketing (even churches) that has occurred. I then read George Barna’s latest findings on the public’s willingness to attend church today. These two provided the key elements that ignited an atomic bomb in my missiology.
Barna said that polling now indicates a hard reality–that 62% of the culture will never step foot in our church buildings no matter what we do, how authentically we love one another, how passionately we pursue excellence in ministry, risk great outreach endeavors or spend millions that we don’t have on advertising or better facilities. 62%! If the world is going to be reached for Jesus Christ, we must leave our buildings for as long as possible. We must go to where they are and begin to develop transformative, missional relationships. We must be the Church rather than do church. We must make disciples who make disciples. That is really the “Mission” in Missional Communities.
For further reading, see recent works by Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Dave Ferguson, Neil Cole, Ed Stetzer and Mike Breen.