When we think of “church,” we generally think congregation – building, people, location, programs. This is the traditional faith community that most of us experience.

However, a new model is emerging. This model has been called many things, but I refer to it as the “missional faith community.” Although I am not part of such a community, I do know of several that exist or are in the process of being formed.

In “Missional Renaissance,” Reggie McNeal introduces such groups in this way: “The anticipated future has arrived in the form of missional communities in every culture where the Westernized Constantinian order is collapsing and the organic church is taking root.” I won’t try to unpack everything that McNeal is saying there, but the key point is this: A more incarnational form is replacing the institutional form of the church.

These groups go by several names. In Europe, they are called “clusters” or “midsized groups.” The model includes many of the groups that we would call “house churches.” Some take the form of “new monastic communities.” Whatever they are called, they tend to have four characteristics in common.

  • They are committed to the spiritual growth of the participants. They encourage one another in spiritual formation and the practice of the disciplines of the faith.
  • They are engaged in ministry in the world. They may be focused on being the presence of Christ in their neighborhood, their workplaces or in a common ministry that all members of the group support.
  • They create community and practice hospitality. They are committed to one another but not at the expense of “the stranger within their gates.”
  • They practice accountability. They believe that genuine spiritual growth and authentic ministry only take place where there is a high degree of accountability.

Are these churches? Yes and no. I suppose it depends on your definition of church. They certainly are expressions of the people of God on mission with God. If that is what you mean by church, yes. They are not concerned about buildings, programs and building an institution. If that is what you mean by church, no.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.

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