The 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.