Perhaps no term that I regularly use is more easily misused, and quite frankly misunderstood, than the word missional. Some have argued that this is reason enough to not use the word at all. I disagree. Though the term clearly carries a certain amount of potential for misunderstanding so did most new words that made their way into theological vocabulary in church history.
The term missional is rooted in the concept of the missio dei, a Latin phrase which means
"the mission of God." This term came into prominence in the early twentieth century as a way to ground missionary theory and practice in the missionary nature and activity of the triune God. The idea behind the concept of the mission dei was that all three persons of the Godhead were involved in "the sending" of the Son into the world. On this basis the church is now "sent" by the Triune God into the world because the sending God is reaching out to the whole world in Christ.
Mission is the carrying of the message and work of Jesus Christ to the whole world, teaching others to believe his good news and follow him as their Lord and Savior. Missions is the activity the church engages in to carry out the mission she has been given by Christ. So why should we adopt a whole new world like missional? Why not simply stay with the word mission since most Christians are comfortable with this term? I suggest the word missional is important because it is a theological term that re-conceptualizes the idea that is inherent in the mission Dei, that is of God sending us into the world as his "sent ones" to be his mission in both community and personal action. The key text for this idea is John 20:21, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you." Christopher Wright, a modern theologian, rightly says, "Mission is and always has been God's before it becomes outs. The whole Bible presents a God of missional activity, from his purposeful, goal-oriented act of creation to the completion of his cosmic mission in the redemption of the whole creation—a new heaven and a new earth" (Christianity Today, January 2007).
A few days ago I discovered, on a friend's blog spot, a two minute video that explains, in very simple terms, what is meant by the term "missional" church. Check this out at:
There is one thing clearly missing in this helpful video. A truly missional church doesn't simply send out individuals to embody and proclaim the good news. A truly missional church equips individuals-in-community to both live and proclaim good news. Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, in their book Total Church, captured this point very well when they wrote:
"Mission must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians, but between unbelievers and the Christian community."
The whole church must become a community of love. When this actually happens the whole church can be seen as a community of love by those who watch believers love one another and love the world in their shared unity. You can't show people what a community looks like by/through individual action(s). This video, even with this one reservation, will help you understand the difference between the "attractional" church model, the model that most of us grew up with in American evangelicalism, and the "missional" church model, the model that I am continually teaching and promoting, both here and especially in my forthcoming book: Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan).