Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > Has the Missional Church failed?

Has the Missional Church failed?

John told me about Dan Kimball’s post “Missional Misgivings” on the Out of Ur blog.  Dan’s basic thesis is that the missional church has not proven itself beyond theory.  In other words, it isn’t effectively making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Is Dan right?

My basic answer to this question is no, Dan is not right.  I say this for a number of reasons which will be listed below in no particular order.

  1. The missional church is not primarily a method of doing church it is a theology of church (ecclesiology).  This is evident in the original and most pure missional church resources, including Guder’s Missional Church, which is the most important book on the missional church (I would also include books by Craig Van Gelder, Alan Roxburgh, and others associated with the Gospel and Our Culture Network).  Even a simple reading of these works reveals that they are promoting an ecclesiology, not a methodology.  Van Gelder’s words are appropriate: the church is, the church does what it is, and the church organizes what it does.  The focus of the missional church is on the first: what is the church?  Missional church answers this question by stating that the church is is the community of the redeemed who is sent by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s mission (John 17:18, 20:21; 2 Cor. 5:18-20).
  2. This does not mean that the missional church is unconcerned about methodology and success.  Some missional church literature does move beyond the church is and discusses how the church does what it is.  Here is where you will find many missional church authors discussing contextual ministry.  In other words, how a church lives its mission is dependent upon its context.  In some contexts, attractional church is the way to go!  In other contexts, attractional church will be a complete failure.  The key to being missional is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your own context.
  3. Dan bases his thoughts on two case studies: one a small missional church that has not grown and the other a large megachurch that claims to reach many unchurched people.  First, his analysis is very anecdotal and proves nothing.  I’m sure it is easy to find big churches, small churches, missional churches, and attractional churches that are “successful” and that are “unsuccessful.”  Dan shouldn’t make a conclusion based upon observing two churches.
  4. Another issue is how we measure success.  Dan specifically states that he is not a numbers guy.  I believe him.  But he does talk about numbers a lot.  But numbers are not everything.  For example, a large majority of megachurch members are recycled saints from other churches.  This does not mean that they aren’t seeing many conversions, but let’s not pretend that the 20,000 people at Willow Creek are 20,000 new Christians.  Furthermore, simply talking about numbers of people does not address the larger picture of God’s mission.  The missional church is focused on the redemption of all things (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Therefore, a church scorecard must go beyond the number of people sitting in the church to reflect how the entire world is being redeemed.  For this I’m eagerly anticipating Reggie McNeal’s next book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (due out in February 2009).
  5. Finally, Dan asks for evidence that current methods of church are not working.  I think one need only to look to England of the last 50 years and the trends of North America in the last two decades to see that America remains spiritual but is less and less “churched.”  The blame for this does not reside on megachurches because, in fact, many megachurches are doing their part.  But it is evidence that something is happening in North American Christianity, something that the last 20 years of attractional programs has not resolved.

So those are my initial thoughts.  I continue to appreciate Dan Kimball, his passion for Christ, his passion for the lost, and the many ways God has used him.  I’ll keep reading his posts and his books.  But on this one, I think Dan is wrong.

  1. December 3, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Brian, well done. My first reaction to Kimball’s post was the same as yours. I too struggled with Kimball’s use of two examples to make his point. I also agree it is vital to ask what “scorecards” are we using to measure effectiveness. I have read a preview copy of McNeal’s “Missional Renaissance” and I believe it will help to move the “measurement” discussion forward. I am also very skeptical of numbers of “unchurched” who are attending attractional churches.

    At the same time, I think Kimball’s words should cause those of us in the “missional camp” to reflect on our view of attractional ministry. Have we at times pushed the attractional is bad and missional/incarnational is good too far? I am sure I have. For me it is helpful to think of the attractional/missional discussion on a continuum rather than an either/or.

  2. December 3, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I think you are right. I’ve done my fair share of attractional bashing as well. I like the image of the continuum: we need to realize that in some contexts attractional can be very missional!

    I’m still a little surprised at Dan’s comments since his The Emerging Church is pretty hard on the seeker-sensitive, attractional movement. Maybe he’s changed a little.

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