Saturday, August 18, 2007

Missional vs. Church Growth

Here's an excellent article by Gailyn Van Rheenen entitled Contrasting Missional and Church Growth Perspectives at

SheHe defines missional churches as "theologically-formed, Christ-centered, Spirit-led fellowships who seek to faithfully incarnate the purposes of Christ."

This definition is not all that helpful, because most churches would say that it describes them.

It is often more helpful to talk about what missional is not. And so she contrasts a missional approach to ministry with church growth philosophy.

Church growth employs "tools from the social sciences to analyze culture and to use this analysis to develop penetrating strategies for reaching both searchers and skeptics with the gospel of Christ." However,

Practitioners succumbed unintentionally to the humanistic suppositions of the Modern Era. Assuming that they could chart their way to success by their ingenuity and creativity, Church Growth practitioners focused on what humans do in missions rather than on what God is doing. They saw the missional task as setting goals, developing appropriate methodologies, and evaluating what does or does not work.

Here is a chart she provides that contrasts the various aspects of these two mindsets:


Church Growth

Orientation/ Perspective







Theological Focus

Missio Dei

Great Commission

Beginning Question

What is the gospel?

What makes the church grow?

Perspective on Scripture

Narrative of God's purposes

Propositional truth

How does missions happen?

By the Spirit (God's "surprises")

By strategic planning

Nature of community

Inclusiveness, unity of the body of Christ

People groups

Focus of Evangelism

Initiation of people into the kingdom of God; holistic understanding of "making disciples"

Differentiation between discipling and perfecting, individual salvation

Orientation toward Social Action

The Gospel, evangelism, and social action cannot be separated

Priority of evangelism and church planting over social action; Reactive to the Social Gospel

(The emphasis is mine.)

Church growth is pragmatic by design, "Church growth determines effective practice and then seeks to validate this practice by the use of Scripture. The movement emphasizes growth rather than faithful proclamation of the gospel and faithful living of the gospel."

SheHe advocates what she calls The Missional Helix. It is composed of four elements: Theological reflection, Cultural analysis, Strategy formation & Historical perspective.

The diagram is a helix because theology, history, culture, and the practice of ministry build on one another as the community of faith collectively develops understandings and a vision of God's will within their cultural context. Like a spring, the spiral grows to new heights as ministry understandings and experiences develop (emphasis in original).

In my experience, there are many who see the missional approach as simply a new form of church growth thinking. Perhaps this article will help demonstrate the difference.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Peron God Created You to Be"


Larry Chouinard said...

Just a clarification: Gailyn is a he. See

Pastor Rod said...

Whoops! Thanks, Larry. I guess I should have done more research.