January 2011

Missional Happens Wherever You Are!

- E. Stanley Ott

In the missional movement some folk take the position that the concepts of “attraction” and “missional” are opposites. The basic thought is that in our post-modern culture the missional work of the church in bearing witness, showing compassion, and standing for justice is best accomplished where we live and work rather than in the various gatherings of our congregations. The contention is that while churches seek to “attract” people to their various programs and to hear the grace of the gospel, such practices no longer bear the fruit they once did and instead the missional future of the church is through its people as they scatter throughout their communities.

Such an approach actually truncates the full idea behind the missional concept – the Missio Dei ¬– the mission of God. The term missional embraces the full work of God that happens when we gather and when we scatter. The “Gathered-Scattered” Attentive is one of the foundational signs of a vital church (see Twelve Dynamic Shifts for Transforming Your Church p. 32-34), because in many contexts today people certainly are clearly attracted to congregational events that address some facet of their lives. Yes, we are “sent” to our homes and places of work in a missional lifestyle; and yes, the church is an assembly to which people may be drawn and introduced to faith. Acts 2:42-47 speaks of the practices and passion of the early church. They had no “program” of outreach, yet the magnetic lives of the individual believers and the warmth of their fellowship drew people in so that the text concludes, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47 NRSV

One way to think about this is the concepts of attraction and diffusion. By attraction, I specifically mean attracting those who are not active in Christian faith or in a Christian church. When a ministry to some people group such as women, men, or youth only involves church members you know, it is not very attractive from a missional viewpoint. However, when such a group is imaginative and willing to try a variety of approaches (which may mean moving some meetings to sites away from the church building), it is amazing how effective it can be. While it is true we live in a rapidly changing culture, it is also true that the way Jesus saw people as harassed and helpless is as true of people today. People will respond to gatherings that understand that.

By diffusion, I mean the way you might watch a drop of food coloring spread throughout a glass of water. When we as believers scatter to our homes and places of employment, we know that Christ who indwells us has something he wants to do through us. Equipping our people to be willing and able to bear witness to their faith, to offer the deed of compassion, and to stand for that which is just in their homes, places of employment, and communities is equipping them to be missional people apart from the gatherings of the church.

 E. Stanley Ott, Ph.D. is president of the Vital Churches Institute and consults with denominational regional areas and with congregations. His books include Twelve Dynamic Shifts for Transformation Your Church, Transform Your Church with Ministry Teams and Small Group Life.


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