Over the past few months I have had an increasing number of conversations with pastors and church leaders about moving existing churches in a missional direction. I have been asked what key issues or topics need to be considered when attempting to transition a traditional church. The following list is certainly not conclusive or comprehensive, but here are nine elements that I believe need to be considered when making a missional shift:

1. Start with Spiritual Formation

God calls the church to be a sent community of people who no longer live for themselves but instead live to participate with Him in His redemptive purposes. However, people will have neither the passion nor the strength to live as a counter-cultural society for the sake of others if they are not transformed by the way of Jesus. If the church is to “go and be,” rather than “come and see,” then we must make certain that we are a Spirit-formed community that has the spiritual capacity to impact the lives of others.

This means the church must take seriously its responsibility to cultivate spiritual transformation that does not allow believers to remain as adolescents in their spiritual maturity. Such spiritual formation will involve much greater relational underpinnings and considerable engagement with a multitude of spiritual disciplines.

One such discipline should involve dwelling in the word, whereby the church learns to regard Scripture not as a tool, but as the living voice of God that exists to guide people into His mission. If we believe the mission is truly God’s mission, then we must learn to discern where He is working; and further discern, in light of our gifts and resources, how He desires a church to participant in what He is doing in a local context.

2. Cultivate a Missional Leadership Approach

The second most important transition in fostering a missional posture in a local congregation is rethinking church leadership models that have been accepted as the status quo. This will require the development of a missional leadership approach that has a special emphasis on the apostolic function of church leadership, which was marginalized during the time of Christendom in favor of the pastor/teacher function.

This missional leadership approach will involve creating an apostolic environment throughout the life of the church. The leader must encourage pioneering activity that pushes the church into new territory. However, because not all in the church will embrace such risk, the best approach will involve creating a sort of “R&D” or “skunk works” department in the church for those who are innovators and early adopters.

A culture of experimentation must be cultivated where attempting new initiatives is expected, even if they don’t all succeed. As pioneering activities bear fruit, and the stories of life change begin to bubble up within the church, an increasing number of people will begin to take notice and get involved.

3. Emphasize the Priesthood of All Believers

Martin Luther’s idea of the priesthood of all believers was that all Christians were called to carry out their vocational ministries in every area of life. Every believer must fully understand how their vocation plays a central part in God’s redemptive Kingdom.

I think it was Rick Warren who made popular the phase “every member is a minister.” While this phrase is a helpful slogan to move people to understand their responsibility in the life of the church, God’s purpose for His church would be better served if we encouraged people to recognize that “every member is a missionary.” This missionary activity will include not just being sent to far away places, but to local work places, schools and neighborhoods.

4. Focus Attention on the Local Community

As individual members begin to see themselves as missionaries sent into their local context the congregation will begin to shift from a community-for-me mentality, to a me-for-the-community mentality. The church must begin to develop a theology of the city that sees the church as an agent of transformation for the good of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). This will involve exegeting each segment of the city to understand the local needs, identify with people, and discover unique opportunities for the church to share the good news of Jesus.

5. Don’t Do It Alone

Missional activity that leads to significant community transformation takes a lot of work and no church can afford to work alone. Missional churches must learn to create partnerships with other churches as well as already existing ministries that care about the community.

6. Create New Means of Measuring Success

The church must move beyond measuring success by the traditional indicators of attendance, buildings and cash. Instead we must create new scorecards to measure ministry effectiveness. These new scorecards will include measurements that point to the church’s impact on community transformation rather than measuring what is happening among church members inside the church walls. For the missional church it is no longer about the number of people active in the church but instead the number of people active in the community. It is no longer about the amount of money received but it is about the amount of money given away.

A missional church may ask how many hours has the church spent praying for community issues? How many hours have church members spent with unbelievers? How many of those unbelievers are making significant movement towards Jesus? How many community groups use the facilities of the church? How many people are healthier because of the clinic the church operates? How many people are in new jobs because of free job training offered by the church? What is the number of school children who are getting better grades because of after-school tutoring the church provides. Or how many times do community leaders call the church asking for advice?

Until the church reconsiders the definition of ministry success and creates new scorecards to appropriately measure that success, it will continue to allocate vital resources in misguided directions.

7. Search for Third Places

In a post-Christendom culture where more and more people are less and less interested in activities of the church, it is increasingly important to connect with people in places of neutrality, or common “hang outs.” In the book “The Great Good Place” author Ray Oldenburg identifies these places of common ground as “third places.”

According to Oldenburg, third places are those environments in which people meet to interact with others and develop friendships. In Oldenburg’s thinking our first place is the home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. But the third place is an informal setting where people relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others.

Third places might include the local coffee shop, hair salon, restaurant, mall, or fitness center. These places of common ground must take a position of greater importance in the overall ministry of the church as individuals begin to recognize themselves as missionaries sent into the local context to serve and share.

In addition to connecting with people in the third places present in our local communities, we need to rediscover the topic of hospitality whereby our own homes become a place of common ground. Biblical hospitality is much more than entertaining others in our homes. Genuine hospitality involves inviting people into our lives, learning to listen, and cultivating an environment of mercy and justice, whether our interactions occur in third places or within our own homes. Regardless of our setting, we must learn to welcome the stranger.

8. Tap into the Power of Stories

Instead of trying to define what it means to be missional, it is helpful to describe missional living through stories and images. Stories create new possibilities and energize people to do things they had not previously imagined. We can capture the “missional imagination” by sharing what other faith communities are doing and illustrate what it looks like to connect with people in third places, cultivate rapport with local schools, and build life transforming relationships with neighbors.

Moreover, we can reflect deeply on biblical images of mission, service and hospitality by spending time on passages such as Genesis 12:2, Isaiah 61:1-3, Matthew 5:43; 10:40; 22:39; 25:35; and Luke 10:25-37.

9. Promote Patience

The greatest challenge facing the church in the West is the “re-conversion” of its own members. We need to be converted away from an internally-focused, Constantinean mode of church, and converted towards an externally-focused, missional-incarnational movement that is a true reflection of the missionary God we follow.

However, this conversion will not be easy. The gravitational pull to focus all of our resources on ourselves is very strong. Because Christendom still maintains a stranglehold on the church in North America – even though the culture is fully aware of the death of Christendom – the transition towards a missional posture will take great patience; both with those inside and outside the church. Many inside the church will need considerable time to learn how to reconstruct church life for the sake of others. At the same time, the church will need to patiently love on people, and whole communities, that have increasingly become skeptical of the church.