The term missional is an adjective that describes the fact that a church totally aligns itself with the missio Dei ( the mission of God). Christ Jesus prayed to the Father, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world,” (John 17.18). This truth reveals that the church is to be missional, on mission, acting as “sent ones” in this world. The church is formed to continue the mission that began in the heart of the Father, was seen in the life of the Son, and is to continue in the Spirit empowered endeavors of the church. The basic premise of the missional church is that “missions” is not an organization or program of a church. Missions constitute the very essence or nature of the church.
The trinitarian God is sending the church on mission. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). The central focus of the community in a missional church is the shared, common mission of taking the gospel of redemption to our world. A missional church understands that it has been sent to a lost world as a continuation of God’s redemptive mission. The church exists to proclaim this gospel of salvation that has been made possible by the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus for our sins. Every follower of Christ in a missional church is led to understand that they share responsibility for the mission to proclaim the gospel to the world. Mission is not a program of the church; mission is the reason for the further existence of the church on earth. With this view, “mission” shifts from naming a function of the church to describing its essential nature. In a missional church, the church is mission rather than does mission as a program or activity of the larger life of the church.
The missional church actually operates and functions in light of a missiological ecclesiology. The missional church sees itself as being a body of people who are joined together for the purpose of being a part of the missio Dei. This missional ecclesiology is rooted in an understanding that God is a missionary God. Therefore, its starting point is the missional nature of the Trinity. God the Father sent the Son. God the Father and the Son sends the Spirit. God the Father, the Son and the Spirit sends the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). The missional church understands that they are God’s sent people. As Costas states, “The Church is the agent of God’s mission. The church is used by the Spirit as an instrument of God’s mission.” Costas goes on to aptly describe the missional understanding of the church:
The church is basically a missionary community, i.e., her fundamental character can only be understood from the perspective of God’s mission to the world. There is an intrinsic, inseparable relation between the church as such and her calling. In other words, the church is a miraculous redemptive community. Not only is she the product of God’s redemptive action in the world, but from the beginning she has been called to be the Spirit’s instrument in the activity out of which she herself was born. Her participation in God’s mission involves the transmission of a message imbedded in her miraculous experiences.
My definition of a missional church is that: A missional church is rooted in the understanding that it is an assembly of Christ-followers who are loved by God the Father, redeemed and sent by God the Son, and regenerated and empowered by God the Holy Spirit to continue the missio Dei on Earth, for the glory of God.
Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church, (
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 31. Orlando E. Costas, The Church and its Mission: A Shattering Critique from the
Third World, (Wheaton: Tyndale Publishing House, 1974), 7.  Ibid., 8.