Alan Hirsch And The Missional Church

I heard Alan Hirsch keynote the Change the World Conference last week at Ginghamsburg Church in Dayton, Ohio. Here are a few of his nuggets, which have helped me to understand the term “missional”, as opposed to simply “mission”.

Constantine is still the emporer of our imaginatons.

While the church is undergoing fundamental change in society, as numbers decline and the church seeks to redefine itself, it is largely still tied to its institutional memory. It won’t be until the church is completely sidelined, like it has become in Britian, that church people will be able to release the shackles of the Constantian era and return to being a full movement of God’s people. Shortly later, Alan said this:

Very few times in history do we release the people of God to be the people of God.

In other words, movements are rare and short lived but have impact that lasts for centuries. Hirsch spoke of colonial America. During this period Methodism swept across the land so rapidly that by 1850 a full third of all Americans were Methodists. A third! But beginning around 1850 Methodist leaders began requiring Greek and Hebrew of its preachers. It is not that education is bad, but the requirements were the first indication of a growing socialization and institutionalism. The Methodist Church has never experienced the same growth since, and has been in decline for over a century and a half.


Using Rogers’ legendary Diffusion of Innovation curve and Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology, Hirsch pointed out that “the tipping point of knowledge is at 16%”. This is the point at which the Innovators and Early Adopters of an idea reach critical mass and the Early Majority begin to assimilate an idea. He noted that once an idea’s acceptance reaches 16% of the population, its eventual acceptance by the entire population is inevitable. Subsequent research has shown me that this is not necessarily true, or at least is not nearly as neat as Hirsch described, and that there is what some have called a “Great Chasm” between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. In fact, overcoming this divide and figuring out the secrets to pushing an idea into the early majority has become a separate topic of research.

The journey of an idea is important to missional thinking because it’s the process by which the gospel of Jesus spreads. Hirsch is thinking about the mission of the gospel from a high level. He also said this, with a chart:

Christology determines Missiology which determines Ecclesiology, or the way the church expresses itself. The church has it backwards, like this:

We put Ecclesiology first, throw in a little Christology in the corner of our work, and then do Mission as a department or program or activity. “Missions” becomes a department in the church. Doing mission doesn’t make a church missional.

Missional is the point when you allow mission to determine the form and function of the church. Mission is not something the church does. It is something that God is.

Mission is not (just) ecclesiology, it is theology. It is the nature of God to be missional. It is intrinsic to our identity as Jesus followers in the world. It is a revolution in theology which leads to a revolution in ecclesiology. It changes everything. God is a missionary God. The church doesn’t do, or create, mission. Mission creates the church.

Then Hirsch quoted Jesus saying to his disciples in John’s gospel:

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Hirsch lays it out very clearly:

  • We are sent.
  • God sent Jesus via incarnation.
  • So I send you.
  • Jesus sends us via incarnation.
  • Therefore, we are to be incarnate in the world.

We’re not called to just reach out and help someone a little bit. We’re called to pitch a tent in their neighborhood, to get dirty with them, to know them, to speak their language, to live lives with them. This is what it means to be missional.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).