*This is the 4th in a series of entries inspired by books I’ve read on the subject of the “missional church.” Please read the ground rules before beginning. Also, try to read entries in chronological order as they tend to build on the previous entry, okay?

A grocery store chain was closing a bunch of stores and one of them was in our neighborhood.

A local church had outgrown their facilities and was looking for a very large space to meet.

And the grocery store chain’s space had a lot of things going for it that would make it attractive to the local church if they were looking to make a purchase. First, it had a LOT of square footage. Most grocery stores do. It also had LOTS of parking available, which many churches in our community want. It was in an excellent location, location, location. In other words, it had all the key ingredients the growing church in our community desired.

But it would need a lot of design work if the growing church were going to use the grocery store for the intended purposes of corporate worship and teaching and such that a church tends to use their buildings for. For starters, the grocery store functioned as a grocery store. One main electronically activated door. Lots of area to keep fruit and refrigerated stuff in boxes or in special coolers on the edges. Lots of shelves in the middle for the stuff we don’t really need. A little deli area. A whole bunch of cash registers in the check out area. Room for a small bank and pharmacy. And a grand total of 6 toilets.

In other words, the local church was going to have to retrofit a building whose FORM fit a particular FUNCTION into another type of facility whose FORM would fit an entirely different FUNCTION.

So, the door operated by motion-sensors was out, a welcoming set of doors were installed. The refrigerated area and refrigerators and produce crates were out, room for walkways and reception areas and fire exits and such were in. Shelves were disposed of to make room for an auditorium complete with stage and ample seating. The deli area, bank, pharmacy and check-out areas were out, rooms for classes, offices, and children’s areas were in. And, yes, they significantly upgraded the situation with the toilets so larger crowds could be accommodated.

By all accounts, the design has been extremely helpful to them on Sundays and the other opportunities they take to use it. Sure, some minor glitches always show up, but they seem really happy with it and it’s helped them further their ministry.

I’ve never studied architecture or design, but I’m pretty sure that it’s one of their rules that FORM follows FUNCTION. I mean, our homes are designed a certain way for a certain reason. Same for skyscrapers. Sports arenas. Farms. Interstate highways. Malls. You name it. Smart and creative and talented people sit at drafting tables with their client’s needs at the forefront and then use their creative talents and training to create a facility that will serve the intended purposes.

And one of the key components in the missional movement is that “Christology determines missiology, missiology determines ecclesiology.”

That’s really just seminary words that mean our view of Christ (especially regarding who He is and why He came) should define our mission (and how we go about it) which will determine how we structure our churches (not only how we gather but what we value). In fact, virtually every missional leader would say that it’s vitally important to get that order right. In simplest terms, our FORM should flow from our FUNCTION, and we should never forget it.

See, design often starts with that form following the function, but there seems to be a natural drift to the function influencing the form in most churches that leaned on the attractional model. For example, when my former church was in the building design phase, we designed the room to handle the way we did Sunday School classes and some mid-week discipleship stuff at that time. It worked great in that function. Then we wanted to make some minor tweaks to both programs, but the room didn’t really allow for a bunch of tables to fit comfortably or practically. We had to take over some of the unused children’s ministry areas on the discipleship nights for small group purposes as the room was too noisy if all the small groups huddled into it.

Did you catch the subtle nature there of the way our FORM drove our FUNCTION? Sure, it’s a small, simple example. But all of a sudden we were figuring out ways to maximize the effectiveness of the space we had rather than asking FUNCTION questions like, “How can we more effectively disciple the middle schoolers? Smaller groups? Why not have them meet in area homes with a leader? Maybe a coffee shop with a leader? Why not service projects by the month off site?” See?

And it happens in subtle ways over long periods of time. Think about what it would look like for say, and entire student ministry, or children’s ministry, or women’s or men’s ministry, or Sunday gathering times. You name it. At some point you are doing the same things and merely tweaking existing systems instead of doing ministry because of your desired FUNCTION. The strength becomes a weakness. The innovations become ruts. But they’re “successful” or “feeding people” so we keep them even if FORM is now driving the FUNCTION.

The missional church strives to keep analyzing systems and questioning the status quo as a “check and balance” against the drift and making sure that christology drives missiology that drives ecclesiology. To use popular business terms, they want to keep the main thing the main thing or find their hedgehog or have their passionate parachute’s color correct.

And while I’ll expound on these in the coming days, the key belief in the “Christology” is that He was INCARNATIONAL. Jesus came and lived among people. It means that we entrust ourselves to Christ in deep and meaningful and authentic ways…that we remain vitally connected to the Person of Christ. And that we will live out this abundant life/relationship among people in intentional ways.

Which is obviously our mission: To do and say the things Jesus said and did. Trust me. If you seriously take a look at that phrase and dwell for a bit on the things Jesus said and did, you’d find yourself viewing the world around you decidedly differently than you currently do. Just yesterday I was talking with an old friend who told me an anecdote about how he stopped and took a homeless guy holding a sign on the corner to lunch and befriended him…because he felt like that would be what Jesus would’ve done at that time and place. In evangelical terms (which he thankfully didn’t use), he “felt led” to do it. I was kind of humbled. Scratch that, I was humbled.

Again, if you start viewing the Kingdom like Jesus did, you’ll start living your life like Romans 12: 1&2 says to do instead of showing up on Wednesdays and Sundays to “get fed” (and yes, I know that is part of the growth process, but if you’d like to talk about how effective those sermons and Bible studies are against other parts of the growth process, well, yeah, I’d happily engage you in that little conversation) and such. Yeah. Living the whole of live as an act of worship is a phrase pregnant with application.

And, that missiology should drive how we structure and give form to our churches. For some, it’ll mean building a building and aggressively equipping people to use their gifts and talents…some within the traditional four walls of a church, but for many it’ll mean aggressively selling their facility and meeting in area homes. For some it’ll mean using their gifts and talents to lead congregations in meaningful worship services on Sundays and Wednesdays. For others it’ll mean getting a group of 20 people, moving into an urban setting and focusing on day-in, day-out serving the down & out & oppressed and maybe never even having a Sunday or Wednesday service. For some it’ll mean hitting the mission field. For others, it’ll mean viewing how they do accounting in a cubicle in a way that furthers the Kingdom (and yes, folks, you can sell insurance or whatever and further the Kindgom).

The idea is that there is a creative Father in Heaven who is sitting at the drafting table drawing up how our FORMS will follow HIS FUNCTION. The most crucial aspect of that is to make sure we don’t reverse the order…


…for any reason.

So, for today, a few questions:

First, in what ways could allowing for that order to be focused on and the likely results of it be uncomfortable and create tension for the traditional models of attractional churches?
Second, in what ways could allowing for that order to be focused on be of tremendous benefit for traditional models of attractional churches?
Finally, how does living your life as worship change the way you view the seemingly “normal” things you do on any given day?

In the next entry we’ll focus on some “ecclesiology” of what would characterize churches that are moving in a more missional direction. But for today, have at it, kids!