I heard something recently that intrigued me. The statement was something along these lines: “The time of the institutional church is over and the time of the missional church has begun.” This was mentioned in passing, and not explained. However, I think I know what that statement means. If you are a pastor, in a church leadership position, or looking for a church, this might interest you.
I believe “institutional church” refers to those churches that are mostly Sunday morning institutions. People come to worship and see themselves as part of an institution, but nothing much else happens. The institutional church, with its structure and consistency, used to be a bulwark of society. It was the center of social activities in many neighborhoods and towns as well.
Things have changed, and the church is viewed quite differently. The local church is no longer a center of social activity because there is so much else going on in people’s lives. The institutional church has lost credibility because of clergy abuse scandals, and serious and nasty divisions within the church regarding various social issues (mainly homosexuality). Today many feel the church is irrelevant. How do you make the church credible and “relevant” (however that might be defined by those making the claim of irrelevancy)?
I believe the church must move from the institutional model to being missional. What does being missional mean? I suspect it means different things to different people, but in general I think missional means being intentional about serving God by serving others. This involves, depending on each church’s call and a lot of other variables, having various ministries to serve its members and the community; sending out and supporting missionaries; and working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unchurched in your community. Some would add seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized, which is appropriate if a church is called to activism (but the church must do it in the name of Jesus Christ, otherwise it is just another benevolent organization).
If a church exists only to survive and isn’t thriving, then it isn’t missional. So maybe that’s something your church should look at. How are we serving others? Are we inward-looking or outward-looking? Is our church more of a social club than anything else? Is our community better because of our presence? Are we more interested in doctrine than in people? While worship and discipleship are extremely important, mission and ministry are as well.
May God bless you as you examine your place of worship and seek God’s direction for it.