Missional renaissance

9 09 2008

I just received an email from Leadership Network featuring four churches who have decided to move in a more missional direction.  I found the brief summaries of their stories both encouraging and motivating.  Change is not only possible but it can also bring more life to the congregation and the community:

Some strange and wonderful things are happening at Rivertree Christian Church.

After praying for 12 years about purchasing a local 85-acre farm and finally coming to a point in the congregation’s history where leaders thought they could pull it off, the church took a different direction.

Greg Nettle, senior pastor for the Massillon, OH church, explains: “When we announced that we’re not going to put up a $40 million campus…that we’re going to be committed to being generous as a church and give money away…people cheered in every service,” Greg says.

The announcement and the congregation’s response were unusual because such a turn of events is counterintuitive to most pastors’ dreams of growing a church, buying land, attracting even more attenders and seeing new Christians invite friends to help the church grow even larger.

Instead, some churches today are pursuing a different course that takes them out of the four walls of their church buildings and into surrounding communities. This adventuresome spirit is sometimes even taking them to other continents.

This shift toward first motivating church members to serve in their communities, rather than initially inviting community members into the church buildings is what some ministry leaders around the country are calling a missional impulse. And because this is not a new desire, but the revival of an old one, this ongoing transition is being called a missional renaissance.

The motivations leading today’s missional churches to adopt a more incarnational approach vary. And the leaders of these churches are motivated by a variety of influences – both internal and external – including Scripture, books, the example of other Christian leaders, or the success of a particular ministry within their own church.

Tim Senff, director of ReachOut , a ministry of Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH), identifies 2004 as the year his church began a serious movement toward more missional involvement with its local and extended communities.

The catalyst for the change was a building campaign in which church leaders decided to dedicate a percentage of the money raised toward practical assistance for others. Most of these designated funds helped the church build an AIDS hospice in Mamelodi, South Africa. Brian Tome, Crossroad’s senior pastor, had visited South Africa in 2003, and brought his passion for the project back to Cincinnati.

Crossroad’s leadership was surprised at the people’s response to the challenge and it began a season of change in the ministry emphasis of the church. Tim Senff reports that the congregation’s “Go Mamelodi” trips have “rocked the church” and “helped them to see the power of what the local church can do when they come together as a team.”

At Meadow Heights Church (Fredericktown, MO), lead pastor Bryan Mills characterizes his church’s shift toward missional ministry as occurring in three stages.

The church’s original intention was to attract people into their building where Bryan and his staff could lead them to Jesus. By the end of 2001, the church engaged in more incarnational evangelism by going into the surrounding communities to invite its neighbors into a relationship with Christ.

By 2007, the church completed its shift toward missional action by adding practical community service to its neighborhood evangelistic efforts. When asked what precipitated this third shift, Bryan responded that he had developed “a growing awareness of a focus on the kingdom and not just the church,” and started growing in his understanding of the implications of a more kingdom-centric approach.

Rich Nathan, senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus (OH), captures the new attitude of the missional churches. “We need a larger target than simply building a great church,” Rich says. “We want to live in a great city. We don’t want the church to simply be an oasis in a great desert.”

Rich adds that a church’s missional focus should change a city for the better – in places of employment, schools and beyond.

“When people walk out the doors of this church, we don’t want to send them back to places in our city that are plagued by gangs,” he says. “We want to send people of this church out into a city that has access to medical care, where there is an availability of jobs, where the races are getting along and there is racial understanding.”

The full 18 page article titledChurches in Missional Renaissance is available here.

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