missionThe Lord has called his people to be on gospel mission for the sake of his glory. Most churchfolk will readily acknowledge this, and yet many churches have drifted away — often subtly — from thinking of themselves as missionaries in their respective communities and beyond. Here are some common ways churches engage in “mission drift.”

1. They over-program.
In this way, we mistake activity for mission and busy-ness for fruitfulness. And while Christians fellowshiping and “doing life” with each other is important, some churches fill the calendar with so many programs and meetings, etc. that their people have little to no margin to be on mission.

2. They pour all their energy into the weekend service.
For many churches, the extent of their weekly thinking, planning, strategy, creativity, etc. is channeled into the production of the weekend gathering. They justify this inward focus by trying to design this service as evangelistically and seeker-minded as possible, but it effectively turns the “go and tell” of mission into the “come and see” of attraction.

3. They use too much insider lingo.
The church service in particular is biblically for the Christian, but the New Testament still tells us it ought to be intelligible to “outsiders.” Some churches communicate only “inside baseball” in their services and groups so that it becomes difficult for interested unbelievers to follow and seek to understand.

4. They are just plain unwelcoming.
We all know about churches that don’t acknowledge visitors. There are also community groups that don’t have an open door for curious unbelievers and other visitors. There are people who look down their noses if someone is in their parking space or pew. Some church communities just aren’t interested in growing or reaching out.

5. They are preoccupied with politics.
Their pastors are too busy culture-warring to be soul-winning and their people are too busy arguing about who should be President to consider how their anger and worry might (or might not) adorn the gospel.

6. They are still stuck in the past, culturally speaking.
Some churches look frozen in time. While there are lots of rich things from our history and tradition worth holding onto, having a church that looks like it stepped out of a time machine in the 1970s probably isn’t it. Some churches are so committed to preserving how they’ve always been, they cannot adequately contextualize the gospel for their communities today.

7. They’re trying to re-create the past.
Some churches have moved on from the past, but are desperate to get it back. But a church can kill its future by constantly trying to recapture “the good ol’ days,” mainly because this is an inward focus and also because outsiders, visitors, and the lost don’t care one bit about your church’s “good ol’ days.”

8. They are preoccupied with social justice causes but not doctrine.
Meeting people’s felt needs and addressing systemic, cultural ills can be biblical and valid implications of the gospel, but a lot of churches forget the gospel part. They trade in the primary purpose of the gospel for its implications. This is a particularly deceptive mode to be in, because socially-conscious churches look like they’re on mission. But if the gospel is not at the center of what we say and do, it’s not God’s mission that we’re on.

9. They are doctrinally rigorous but socially withdrawn.
The opposite of the above problem. These churches are hearers of the word only. Sometimes they are so suspicious of “social justice” and the “social gospel” that they’d rather die than be caught making a concerted effort to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan.

10. They are divided or otherwise riddled with conflict and power plays.
Some churches are fertile ground for power-hungry folks or divisive personalities jockeying for position. In many of these churches, the leaders may be interested in kingdom mission but find that so much of their energy is occupied in mediating arguments, managing contentious member meetings, defending themselves, or just trying to keep the peace. In these cases, people have forgotten what a church is even for.

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9 thoughts on “10 Common Ways Churches Get Off Mission”

  1. Bud Brown says:

    I suspect that what you’ve identified, Jared, are “symptoms” rather than the underlying “disease.”

    Mission drift is, I think, due to a lack of intentionality. It sets in when those in the top levels of leadership lose focus; they fail to keep the main thing the main thing. That allows other things to creep in and compete with the mission for priority in programming, resources and attention. But when leaders ruthlessly ask, “will this help us drive the mission forward?” they’re positioning themselves to keep the church focused.

    Another item I’d add to your list is “11. The imbibe the wrong spirit. That is, the spirit of the age has crept into this church. Rather than seeing themselves as missionaries on a hostile cultural frontier, and the church as a training and first-aid outpost, they see themselves as consumers and the church as a purveyor of religious goods and services.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Sure. Somebody should write a book about that. ;-)

      1. Bud Brown says:

        Not a bad idea. You got a working title? ;-)

        BTW – did you get my email?

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          Bud, I did. It’s in my queue for response. Sorry for the delay.

  2. Well said Jared. I’ve forwarded this to the youth pastor and also to a man who has been visiting the church I pastor for about a month and was drawn to it because of our Mission and Vision. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. BTW: the link to ‘a book” in your above comment did not work.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Ah, no wonder there was some confusion. I think I’ve fixed it. Thanks, Bill.

  3. Betty Draper says:

    Hopped over here from Bill’s site, glad I did. Like I told Bill, the first paragraph had me. My husband and I are New Tribes missionaries serving stateside after years on the field. All you wrote about hit us in the face when we came home on furloughs. Now that we are home for good, we are still struggling with just what you wrote on. I tell the women in the bible study I teach, they are as much as a missionary as I am, it’s not about the country we live in, it’s about the location of our hearts. Jesus came to seek that which was lost, not to give us a comfortable life here on this earth. In fact He told us clearly in this world we will have trials and tribulations. Great post brother.

  4. Ray Cheung says:

    Much appreciate the article, Jared. This may interest you. There is this fascinating and highly acclaimed paper by Prof Robert Woodberry, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.

    What I find thought-provoking and inspiring about this paper – because of the robustness of its data and findings which initially provoked anger in secular institutions/reviewers but eventually won it accolades and awards – is that it provides the solid numbers to draw the conclusion that your article is alluding to.

    One thing that is striking is that Woodberry explicit states that it was the Conversionary Protestants (as opposed to other Christian missionary groups) who were primarily responsible for the tremendous blessings to the world. There’s obviously much more to the paper.

    With its help, I intend to put this proposition to my church: It is demonstrable that it was actually the primary focus on evangelism that produced the secondary effect of great blessing for the world. This would make perfect scriptural sense to me; because we would expect that God to bless and honour the honouring of His Son through making Him known (not forgetting that suffering and persecution are also part and parcel of the whole picture, lest we succumb to too simplistic a theology). The neglect evangelism is therefore a very unwise thing to do. We first evangelize and then we do with joy the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. To do just the latter would merely lead to our own demise and is self-defeating.

    There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome here! Your thoughts or counter arguments would be most welcome.

  5. Lewis Cidington says:

    If we took the Bible at face value and really believed and obeyed it, our lives and churches would look different. “Your Father is not willing that any should perish…” Matt. 18:14 “God is making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:20 “My interest in this world died long ago.” Gal. 6:14

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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