by Simon G. Rattray,
The JUMP Network
“Missional churches are not growing”. I hear this statement a lot. Another one I hear is, “The emergent church has not emerged.” To begin with, I realise some missional gatherings are just a bunch of recalcitrant kids, including some grownups who haven’t grown up. They are doing the missional thing because its ‘cool’ and they got sick of the established church telling them to grow up. But more importantly, what are leaders and denominations looking at or looking for when they measure growth? Is it designated buildings for worship, an increase in attendees, or several church ‘plants’ over a given period? Is growth defined by a church’s budget or the employment of full-time staff? If you’re looking for these ‘evidences’ of growth in a missional church, you may not find them.
From where I stand, missionary churches (I prefer this term) have several clear characteristics.
To begin with, they take the New Testament way of doing church very literally, often adopting some of the Jewish/Eastern cultural expressions that go along with it. They try to move the Incarnation of Jesus beyond doctrinal theory. They function like a group of missionaries on a foreign mission field. In true missionary fashion, they learn the language or (in a western context) the lingo or jargon, and try to submerge their ecclesiology into the particular sub-culture they are trying to reach. All of this takes time—sometimes years of icebreaking and relationship building occurs before the first ‘official’ meeting (if you could call it that).
I grew up on the mission field in Indonesia. It is common for missionaries to spend years and years working among Muslims or Hindus without a single convert. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their methods are deficient. The New Testament frequently uses agricultural type metaphors to describe the Kingdom of God. This is where the term ‘seeding’ the gospel comes from. Therefore, finding evidence of growth or ‘fruit’ in such settings can be tricky, especially if one is looking at things from a contemporary Church Growth mindset where economies of scale and pragmatism are often influencing factors.
I am not saying that all ‘Church Growth’ principles have no merit and I am not suggesting that attractional (or established) churches do not have ministry beyond the monoculture. I agree that some missional churches don’t seem to be making much progress, but the same could be said of some attractional churches. I know of many attractional churches that have had to lay off the pastor and close their doors. It’s tough out there. We are in a pagan era that is most likely more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism of the first century.
We need to understand each other and dissolve this ‘us versus them’ mentality that has sunk in—this is dividing some great people from both camps who love Jesus and are trying to grow saints and save sinners. Both the attractional and missional churches can greatly benefit from liaising together, and working toward ways where mission, discipleship and leadership are shared and celebrated.
-By Simon G. Rattray
Simon is a consultant with the Jump Network – an agency committed to reviving the latent missionary impulse among God’s people.