7 Marks of a Missional Church

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At Citizens Church, we call ourselves a “Family of Servant Missionaries”, an identity statement rooted in the very nature of who we believe is the One True God found in the Bible – Father (Family), Son (Servant), and Holy Spirit (Missionaries). “Missionaries” is important to clarify since this term, as well as the adjective “missional”, can have different meanings to each person. Scripture remains the primary source used to define these terms, but much can also be learned from authors who have studied the Scriptures and have implemented their principles in actual ministry settings. Thus, what follows is a summary of six marks of a “missional church” adapted from Dr. Tim Keller’s book, Center Church, annotated with biblical references, with a seventh mark that is a value of Citizens Church specifically.

1. The church must be a counterculture for the common good.

(Ex. 19:5, 6; Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 12:9-21; Phil. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:4-10)

Society in general is made up of multiple clubs or associations typically based on culture, gender, profession, interest, race, socio-economic status, etc. Humans are naturally wired to associate with like-minded people and create community within that sphere. The church is similar in this way, while simultaneously being a contrast community with a calling to integrate each of these aforementioned particulars under the umbrella of the grace, mercy, service, and the truth of Jesus and his gospel. With the gospel as the focus of this countercultural community, a “missional church” can develop a “third way” of living in community that is neither overly individualistic nor collectivistic since the gospel breaks down the self-centeredness implicit in human institutions.

2. The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular.

(Acts 17:22-34; Titus 1:10-16)

Up until the last forty or so years, the U.S. could predominantly have been identified as “culturally Christian”, meaning that Christianity was the major religion practiced and the surrounding culture was more familiar with the concepts of God, sin, and salvation. However, multiple factors, including the advent of the technological age and the mainstream rise of evolution as a way to explain all of reality, have contributed to the marginalization of the Christian story. Presently, biblical concepts are not as easily understood, even though they still have made their way into mainstream culture (i.e. Harry Potter sacrificing his own life to save others and conquering death). A “missional church” recognizes this cultural shift and learns to connect the culture to the gospel in understandable ways without sacrificing the truth.

3. The church must itself be contextualized and should expect nonbelievers, inquirers, and seekers to be involved in most aspects of the church’s life and ministry.

(Deut. 10:17-19; Acts 11:1-18)

The practical outworking of a “missional church” model should not only result in doing contextually missional acts but should essentially be a contextualized community that can live in the tension of complexity. One major indictment on the church is its often factious or “clicky” feeling, which communicates an exclusive culture that is only accepting of like-minded people. Alternatively, the beauty of a community that at its core is humbled and submitted to the unmerited favor of God in Jesus Christ is that it can be “porous”, or penetrable by people from all walks of life, no matter how different they are from each other. A “missional church” then does not need to be dependent solely on evangelism programs to reach out to non-believers, but can readily expect them to feel welcome, cared for, and accepted in most aspects of the church’s rhythmic year.

4. The church must equip people in mission in every area of their lives.

(Ex. 18:13-27; Luke 10:1-12; Eph. 4:11-13; 2 Tim. 2:1, 2; 4:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10; 13-25)

A church that looks at its elders as “professional ministers” compartmentalizes the role of ministry to only the institutional church sphere. Whereas we believe it is necessary to pay at least one pastor-elder to have oversight of a church, this role is not relegated to only performing “church work”, such as running programs, but is actually meant to be an equipping role for the saints in the community, helping each to embody “the priesthood of the saints” commission found in 1 Pet. 2:9, 10. A “missional church” trains and supports its community to communicate and live out the gospel in their personal relationships amongst families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and beyond.

5. The church must practice unity.

(Psalm 133; John 17:20, 21; Eph. 4:4)

Since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the church as institution gradually became associated with denominations. Denominations have indeed served a helpful purpose in differentiating the doctrines and practices of church communities over the last few centuries, but in the wake of the cultural shift away from Christianity and toward pluralism, denominations have become known more as divided religious institutions devoid of the gospel, popularizing a view that the Christian church is not unified and thus irrelevant. It is fundamental for a “missional church” to practice unity so that non-believers can see that the church is not about itself (membership, doctrinal “rightness”, etc.) but first about the gospel of love in Jesus. With unity in love as a primary focus, the church can better contrast with the surrounding worldly culture, exemplifying Christ as the reason unity and love can be attained amongst differing views.

6. The church must confront society’s idols.

(Jonah 3:1-10; Dan. 5:23; Acts 14:15)

As a community that has received ultimate forgiveness and grace because of the good news of Jesus Christ, the commissioning and natural compulsion of the church is to introduce others to this same great hope. However, all cultures from the dawn of civilization have always been deeply misled into worshiping anything but the one who created them, which is idolatry in its inherent form. In order to reconnect people to the God they have lost, they need to first see that there is no such thing as a “worshipless” person. Worship, or ascribing supreme value to an ideal, vision, or person, remains intact in American culture in forms of consumerism, materialism, and celebrity infatuation, and it is the calling of the church to expose these idols and plead with the worshipers in love, truth, and by example to return back to the only one worthy of worship, Jesus Christ.

7. The church must value and practice emotional-spiritual health.

(Psalm 77:1-3; Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 12:15)

A final mark of a missional church that we at Citizens view as implicitly found weaving throughout each of these six aspects is the integral need to be a community that practices emotional-spiritual health in growing toward maturity.[1] Practicing brokenness, vulnerability, grieving, emotional awareness, reconciliation, and other aspects of emotional health are essential to being a church that can execute these missional principles in humility toward Christ and not in arrogance.


[1] See Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives, 2010, for a comprehensive look at emotional-spiritual health.