Why Be Missional?

Posted on 03/13/2007

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            Various studies reveal that America is increasingly becoming an unchurched mission field.  The percentage of people who identified themselves as Christians has dropped 9 percent from 1990 to 2001.[1]  Furthermore, George Barna has reported that, “Since 1991, the adult population in the  United States has grown by 15%.  During that same period, the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million—a 92% increase.”[2]  If the mission of the church is to reach this country for Jesus, the statistics reveal we are losing ground.  Although there is still a part of America that is rural, conservative, and Christian, this cannot be said of
St. Louis,where I live, as well as many other metropolitan cities in our country. 

           Michael Wolff described the dichotomy that exists in  America: There is a fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant…morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation…and there’s the small town, nuclear-family, religiously-oriented, white-centric other America, [with]…its diminishing cultural and economic force….Two nations…[3]  

            Christians are finding themselves increasingly in a culture that is not Christian and in some places even anti-Christian.  We are also seeing the people of the world come to America.  Missions no longer can be seen as something that happens in another country; in urban centers, the different cultures of the world are making a home and becoming our neighbors.  This new phenomenon has given rise to the use of the word “Glocal” in describing the melding of a local and global ministry.[4] There is a great need to reexamine how we do church and to begin to strategically think about our mission in this new glocal situation. 

The condition of the typical church has much to do with the fact that Christianity is waning in influence in
America.  Sadly it is commonly reported that 80 percent of churches or either plateaued or declining.
[5]  William Easum makes the startling prediction
that three out of four established churches with attendance of 80 to 200 will close in the next thirty years unless they transition into doing church differently.[6]  These grim observations coincide with studies that reveal that a great majority of Americans simply do not go to church.  Outreach Magazine compiled statistical information from various church researchers and pollsters and reported what they saw as, “7 Startling Facts” concerning the church.[7]  They are:

1.      Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church—half of what the pollsters report.

2.      America church attendance is steadily declining.

3.      Only one state is outpacing its population growth.

4.      Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.

5.      Established churches—40 to 190 years old—are, on average, declining. 

6.      The increase in churches is only ¼ of what’s needed to keep up with population growth.

7.      In 2050, the percentage of theU.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990. 

                The missional movement is in part a response to these daunting statistics.  The missional movement recognizes that in spite of the fact that America has more mega-churches than ever, we are still losing ground in reaching people for Jesus.  Eddie Gibbs notes that, “the majority of church leaders throughout the Western world find themselves ministering in a rapidly changing cultural context that is both post-Christian and pluralistic. Consequently they are in as much need of missionary training to venture across the street as to venture overseas.”[8]   Seemingly there is a great need for a missional ecclesiology that will educate and equip the Church concerning its primary purpose to reach America with the gospel.[9]  Because America is increasingly an unchurched and non-Christian nation, and because the people of the world are making their homes in our cities, Churches must reevaluate the role and function that mission has in their fellowship.

            My desire is to lead Rock Hill Baptist Church to see itself as a missional entity in our urban setting.  The majority of Christians at Rock Hill  Baptist Church do not ever share their faith.  They are not engaged in the mission that has been left to us by our Lord.  How true it is that evangelism is one of the highest values in the church but possibly one of the least practiced.[10]  Our church needs to remember the gospel message and the fact that its ultimate mission is to make known to the world this good news.  In light of statistics that reveal the spiritual condition of our nation and our churches, it is appropriate for our church to begin to consider itself as a missionary entity and function accordingly.   If the church is going to recognize that they are to live as a sent people, it will be its leaders that help them to capture this vision and equip them for this endeavor.  The church will always be sending others into the uttermost parts of the world, but we must also live as a sent people to the neighborhoods in which we live. To simply think of ourselves as established, and being the senders of others, robs us of the gospel-mission, imperative to join God in his mission to the people who live and work in our neighborhoods.  Pastors must be the key leaders that serve as the mission guides for the church.  Pastors must come to see their churches as a fellowship of missionaries who need training, equipping, motivating, and instruction in how to take the gospel to their world. 


[1] Ed Stetzer & David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006) 8.

  [2] George Barna, http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateBarriw&aBarnaUpdateID=163 

[3] Michael Wolff,New York, Feb 26 2001, p. 19. 

[4] Bob Roberts Jr., Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). 

[5] Stetzer & Putman, Breaking the Missional Code, 17.  

[6] William M. Easum, Warning! Turning a Church Around is a Dangerous Calling, “Net Results” September 1999, 21.  

[7] Rebecca Barnes and Lindy Lowry, “Special Report: theAmerican
Church in Crisis” Outreach Magazine, May/June 2006. 
[8] Eddie Gibbs, ChurchNext, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 27. 

[9] Charles Van Engen, God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 27.

[10] Mark Mittelberg, Building a Contagious Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 20.

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