The definition of a missional church has increasingly become blurred as different people apply the term in different ways to accommodate their church's need, reported a prominent Christian magazine this month.
Originally, the term was introduced to the public with the publication of The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America in 1998, wrote J. Todd Billings in Christianity Today. Billings is assistant professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich.
The book criticized the American church for focusing too much on internal needs of members and maintaining its social privilege in society, while neglecting God's purpose for the church in the world.
It called on churches to be missional in the sense of remembering God's main purpose or mission for his followers – to be witnesses of God in the world. The multiple authors of Missional Church emphasized that everything a church does should be mission.
"Missional Church authors were not merely 'redesign[ing] the church for success in our changing context,' or seeking a pragmatic 'method and problem solving' approach to ministry," explained Billings. "Instead, they sought to diagnose the cultural captivity of today's church, including its obsession with marketing and technique.
He added, "More importantly, they painted a theologically rooted vision of the church as a community called to participate in God's mission in and for the world."
Soon churches started to describe themselves as missional but changed what God's mission is and how they would play a role in it.
Some churches claimed to be missional by drawing up a mission statement focused on expanding its own church ministries rather than God's mission for the world. Others said preaching on practical, self-improvement topics such as, "How to Be a Better Spouse" or "How to Be Financially Successful" is missional.
Meanwhile, one church trying to be on "the cutting edge of being missional" gave an open invitation to people of all ages and all stages of faith, including seekers who have not yet confessed their faith, to be baptized.
"When our needs set the agenda, how can we learn to embody the gospel that is not just our story, but first and foremost God's?" Billings wrote.
In the Bible, baptism is an act that takes place after someone has accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. In many ways it can be seen as an initiation ceremony in the body of Christ.
Yet despite the confusion on what a missional church is and what is God's mission, what churches that claim to be missional seem, for the most part, to agree on is a shared sense that the church is not only about its members inside the church walls, but about reaching the people outside the church.