More people are talking about going missional. Churches want in on the missional movement. But what is it really and why are some claiming it is the biggest development in Christianity since the Reformation?
The missional movement, in many ways, is a counter force to the traditional way of "doing" church. Rather than being program-focused, the missional church prides itself on being people-focused.
"Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity," explains missional leadership specialist Reggie McNeal in his new book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church. "To think and to live missionally means seeing all life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world."
A person or church that goes missional does not measure how well they are doing spiritually by how often they attend church or how many people fill the pews on Sunday. Instead, missional individuals "think about God and the world" and arrange their whole life - every aspect of their life - around their faith convictions and put their faith into every day actions.
"This missional understanding of Christianity is undoing Christianity as a religion," McNeal writes. "These differences are so huge as to make missional and nonmissional expressions of Christianity practically unrecognizable."
The three major shifts in thinking and behavior seen in a person or church that goes missional are: from internal to external in terms of ministry focus; from program development to people development in terms of core activity; and from church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda.
"For these (missional) leaders, church has moved from being internally occupied to externally focused, from primarily concentrating on its institutional maintenance to developing an incarnational influence," McNeal writes. "These leaders find themselves thinking of kingdom impact more than church growth."
Those who are part of the missional movement are "serious" about personal development and not just interested in gaining a lot of Scriptural knowledge but not putting it into practice, explains the expert who has helped churches from as large as 10,000 members to as small as 30 become missional.
Some of the activities that missional churches lead include processing food and a prayer journal into backpacks for underprivileged children and starting micro-economic businesses in inner cities.
"Missional church is not about 'doing church' better – at least, not the way we've 'done church' in North America," McNeal says. "It is not church growth in a new dress…missional thinking and living change the game completely. The missional renaissance is altering both the character and the expression of the church in the world."
Given recent surveys that show an increasing number of Americans saying they are unaffiliated or have no religion, the missional concept is particularly appealing because it offers an answer to why church membership is declining and how to fix it.
According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released on Monday, the percentage of Americans claiming no religion jumped from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, and has now increased to 15 percent.
Moreover, the percentage of those claiming no religion has grown in every state in the country, according to the ARIS survey, while the percentage of Christians in America has declined.
The findings were based on over 54,000 interviews conducted between February and November in 2008 by Connecticut-based Trinity College's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.
"An industry based on come-and-get-it is not penetrating the culture," McNeal said to The Christian Post in an interview on Tuesday. "We are going to have to figure out how to be the church where people already are as opposed to setting up a separate church domain in our culture and expecting people to identify with it."
McNeal considers the missional movement still in its "early days," but he highlights its growing popularity noting that a Google search on "missional" will yield over a million hits, and churches and denominations are increasingly claiming the title of missional.
"The missional renaissance reflects the church's response in a time of a remarkable manifestation of the kingdom," he writes. "Those who miss it will find themselves on the other side of a divide that renders them irrelevant to the movement of God in the world."