History of Missional Church – Part I
History of Missional Church – Part II

The Gospel and Our Culture Network

As Newbigin’s writings gained a larger circulation and the British programme received greater recognition, a version of the Gospel and Our Culture conversation began to emerge in the United States. A network began to take shape in the mid-1980s and by the early 1990s, under the leadership of George Hunsberger, the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN)[1] was publishing a quarterly newsletter and also convening a yearly consultation. “By the mid-1990s, the movement in the United States had begun to find its own voice beyond the influence of Newbigin, and the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company began to publish a series of books under the moniker The Gospel and Our Culture Series.”[2] To date the following volumes have been published in this series:

George Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder, eds., The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (1996).

Darrel L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (1998).

George Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin’s Theology of Cultural Plurality (1998).

Craig Van Gelder, ed., Confident Witness — Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America (1999).

Darrel L. Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church (2000).

James V. Brownson, ed. StormFront: The Good News of God (2003).

Lois Y. Barrett, ed., Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness (2004).

While the Gospel and Our Culture Network does not offer a precise definition for “missional church,” they do provide what they refer to as “indicators of a missional church.” The indicators are an effort to identify what might be some of the key aspects that contribute to the church’s unique ability to better understand and therefore connect with the diverse cultures within the North American context.

1.  The missional church proclaims the gospel.

What it looks like: The story of God’s salvation is faithfully repeated in a multitude of different ways.

2.  The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus.

What it looks like: The disciple identity is held by all; growth in discipleship is expected of all.

3.  The Bible is normative in the church’s life.

What it looks like: The church is reading the Bible together to learn what it can learn nowhere else – God’s good and gracious intent for all creation, the salvation mystery, and the identity and purpose of life together.

4.  The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord.

What it looks like: In its corporate life and public witness, the church is consciously seeking to conform to its Lord instead of the multitude of cultures in which it finds itself.

5.  The church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members.

What it looks like: The church has made its “mission” it priority, and in overt and communal ways is seeking to be and do “what God is calling us to know, be, and do.”

6.  A missional community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.

What it looks like: Acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of one another both in the church and in the locale characterize the generosity of the community.

7.  It is a community that practices reconciliation.

What it looks like: The church community is moving beyond homogeneity toward a more heterogeneous community in its racial, ethnic, age, gender, and socioeconomic makeup.

8.  Peoples within the community hold themselves accountable to one another in love.

What it looks like: Substantial time is spent with one another for the purpose of watching over one another in love.

9.  The church practices hospitality.

What it looks like: Welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community plays a central role.

10.  Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.

What it looks like: There is a significant and meaningful engagement in communal worship of God, reflecting appropriately and addressing the culture of those who worship together.

11.  The community has a vital public witness.

What it looks like: The church makes an observable impact that contributes to the transformation of life, society, and human relationships.

12.  There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God.

What it looks like: There is a widely help perception that this church is going somewhere – and that “somewhere” is a more faithfully lived life in the reign of God.[3]

One final note from the writings of the Gospel and Culture Network: Darrell Guder emphasizes the importance of having congregations formed by hearing the Bible “missionally.” He points out that when missional renewal is happening, different kinds of questions are brought to the Bible. He writes:

Congregations are open to being challenged, to looking hard at their deeply ingrained attitudes and expectations. The missional approach asks, How does God’s Word call, shape, transform, and send me . . . and us? Coupled with this openness is the awareness, that biblical formation must mean change, and often conversion. Christian communities may discover that their discipling will require repentance and that their way of being church will have to change.[4]

1. “The GOCN is a collaborative effort that focuses on three things: (1) a cultural and social analysis of our North American setting; (2) theological reflection on the question, what is the gospel that address us in our setting? And (3) the renewal of the church and its missional identity in our setting.” George Hunsberger, The Church Between Gospel and Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 290. For more information on The Gospel and Our Culture Network see www.gocn.org

2. Van Gelder, The Missional Church and Denominations, 4.

3. Walter C. Hobbs, “Method,” in Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness, ed. Lois Y. Barrett (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 160.

4. Darrell L. Guder, “Biblical Formation and Discipleship,” in Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness, ed. Lois Y. Barrett (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 70.