Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

A Working Definition of Missional Church

  Looking for Vision… 
  Originally uploaded by J.H.C.

Alan Hirsch and I were sitting at his house talking one afternoon and the topic of the missional church came up.  He was telling me that Alan Roxborough’s classic approach when someone says, "Give me a definition of missional" is "You give me a definition of the kingdom of God in one sentence and I will give you the definition of missional." I had a good laugh. 

It can be difficult to define.  With that said, let me jump in with my working definition, with the recognition that while it is difficult to define, it is important to firm up a kind of understanding of the missional church, especially at a time where it has become such common jargon. 

THE MISSIONAL CHURCH IS… the people of God living with the conviction that we are a sent people (by our Triune God) – called to be a faithful sign, foretaste and herald of the kingdom of God. We are a people who engage in the task of bilingual theological reflection (recognizing the grammar of the dominant culture as well as the grammar of God) so that we can embody the good news in the context in which we find ourselves and join God in the renewal of all things.

How would you define the missional church?

14 Responses to A Working Definition of Missional Church

  1. Stephen says:

    Great definition. One thing that I always get hung up on, not just in your definition, but in most missional discussions is the necessity for a bilingual viewpoint. I understand the need to relate to an ever changing culture, but I believe the Holy Spirit speaks all languages and cultures. I can GO with confidence and speak with one Spirit, one voice, and the fruitfulness will be evident. I feel any attempts on my part to translate the message of the gospel to be more relevant is ineffective. We must have faith that God will speak through His people the message of Jesus in the best possible way for all cultures and all people.

  2. Dave DeVries says:

    I like what you’ve said…

    Simply understood, the Missional Church is the “missionary people of God” – sent by Jesus with the gospel in community to those in the surrounding culture.

    To me, the word missional conveys the idea of being “sent by Jesus to be Jesus.”

    I appreciate Stephen’s perspective that we must allow God to speak through us – however, it is necessary to understand both the culture and the gospel in order to communicate the gospel in ways that will be understood. Let’s be students of the gospel and the culture where we live — rather than expecting that we simply need “faith that God will speak through His people the message of Jesus in the best possible way for all cultures and all people.”

  3. ron cole says:

    Missional Church is when it no longer needs to be defined. It is a core characteristic, the dominant gene in its communal DNA. It would be the character trait most visible…starngers wouldn’t need to ask, ” what your all about.” A missional church is a church with re-newed vision, it looses it’s ” self ” image, the vision for the church…and now only has a vision for the surrounding Neighborhood/ Community and World.A missional church is willing to sell everything for the Kingdom. A missional church is a revelation of the Kingdom here…and points to the hope of a future Kingdom.

  4. Chris Garner says:

    Hi JR – wow what a topic..you could have a whole blog just for this question!
    I love your definition, i like the way you put things – it helps a lot!

    I too am inspired by Hirsch’s thinking and used to be hooked on trawling the web for re-definitions of church for a truly missional church picture.
    I think i’ve reached a point of saturation with all the words and opinions – in truth, a lot of what is thought about missional church would be claimed by most churches as what they do anyway (being relevant to society, a vision for the community/world etc)
    I appreciate the comments above me here, I feel they are all right but the average ‘non-missional’ church wouldn’t feel challenged to change by them.

    I like that you start by saying ‘the people of God living with a self-understanding that we are a sent people’ – i would suggest writing it as ‘the people of God living obedient to His calling with revelation that we are a sent people..’

    I think the key to this aspect of being missional church lies in Exodus 19: being the priesthood of all believers:
    Exodus 19 (New Living Translation)
    “Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions…to the descendants of Israel: … 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation…”

    After this point in scripture separate roles were set by the people – right up until the curtain was torn and we all are called the Priesthood of ALL believers again
    If we consider Exodus 19 (v16 when people heard this word from God but still had fear…and created separating roles) as our FALL moment in this then the REDEMPTION is found in Christ as our High Priest in Hebrews 9
    and affirmed in:
    1Peter 2v9
    “But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done.”

    So i think its not a rhetoric to discover – its not a value realised within one church model or by one man – its already in scripture!
    And I think that when we have churches that live in this new covenant; living restored as an obedient people, everyone living out our gifts&callings – being the Priesthood of all

    Believers THEN the world will encounter a church full of Christians convinced of their role in society, workplace, homes and the economy, all living out His calling and making the Gospel truly authentic and approachable to all we meet.
    I believe it challenges how we see our church titles & roles, how we see the lines between state & secular, and the gaps in our churches (positions, generational etc)

    Sorry for the long post – and I’m not critising any comments above (i deeply appreciate them!). I have read Hirsch and met him only once (at an exhibition) but hear his heart as one that desires not to DO missional church but to RE-LEARN how God would have us live as church in our communities – and i believe its in living up to the blessing promised in Exodus 19 v 5-6

    Thanks JR, i look forward to your feedback!

  5. Dave DeVries says:

    Neil Cole has a great definition…
    “The presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”

  6. JR Woodward says:


    Thanks for your thoughts. I think that Paul provides a great example of someone who understood his culture and the good news, when he was connecting with people in Athens. Notice when his audience was non-Jews, he started with their poets and philosophers, because he took the time to understand them. He writes in I Cor. 9 that he became a Jew to the Jew and a Greek to the Greek… because he knew how to build bridges to Christ by meeting people where they are at. In other words, the Spirit wants to guide us to study and understand other cultures. This is vital. I don’t think it is an option.


    Thanks for your thoughts as well. I like the phrase “missionary people of God.” Thanks for sharing Neils definition with us as well.


    How are you mate? It is nice to read some of your writing again. I appreciate your emphasis on the priesthood of all believers living out their calling in the world. Great point. Peace.

  7. JR Woodward says:


    Thanks for your thoughts. I like your emphasis on the kingdom and the church existing for the sake of the world. But I do have a question for you. What do you mean when you say the church loses its “self” image, the vision for the church…?”

  8. ron cole says:

    J R, I think it’s the idea of a ” church vision “, programs to draw people into the building instead of a vision for the neighborhood the church lives in. To often we can get lost navel gazing, looking at our belly buttons, instead of looking outward to the world, thinking how we can change it.
    I like Eugene Peterson’s interpretation in the Message, the opening verses in the Gospel of John…

    14The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
    We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
    Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

    Missional churches move “into” the neighborhood revealing the generousity of Jesus and his Kingdom.
    I hope that makes sense, and thanks for stretching us, we really need to define a word that’s so easily tossed around.

  9. Chris Garner says:

    Thanks mate- i haven’t written much lately..its been a busy term here! Good news though is that I have just been accepted to finish a double degree in teaching 🙂

    have you seen this doc:


    its interesting – thing i like about it is that it measures a missional church by its fruits…

    good to chat again!
    thanks mate

  10. sonja says:

    Jr here is my definition:
    The missional church is a broken renewable
    generation set apart and called by God to transcribe the message of good news to a language without barriers carried out to
    people who consider themselves lost.

    The day after i read fhlippians 2:15-16
    “so that you may become blameless and pure,children of god without fault in a crooked and depraved generation,in which you
    shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life”(n.i.v)

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  14. Arlene says:

    No good definition of the missional church, sorry but a comment on “the necessity for a bilingual viewpoint”…I think as more of a storyteller @ heart(me), we have to consider where people are coming from and use what we know to bring the good news to them in a way they would understand…perhaps it’s their culture, perhaps it’s their background…most definately things have changed in the states in the last 30 years from when I became a Christain and how I share Christ has to change…not the base message per say but more than the method…an example would be when I talk about our Heavenly Father’s character to my friends with absent dads, it would be silly for me to not consider their world…they might only be able to understand as far as their life experiences take them…without digging deeper and being out of the box in our approach

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