Last fall Ed Stetzer wrote about the fact that many missional churches are not that missionary oriented. If you read that and think, “What are you talking about?” then you should click over to Ed’s article and see what he says.
I agree with much of Ed’s viewpoint on this, but I think the problem is much deeper than he states. The movement we know now as the “missional” movement was born in part because of a reaction against modernism in the church. It is made up of many who think that post-modern expressions of the church speak to today’s culture in a more significant way. At the same time, the approach to missions that is predominant among agencies comes from a thoroughly modern worldview. This is also true of larger churches which are the the major influencers of how we see and know the church today.
“Missional” movements are predominately found in Western cultures. The emerging church movement, for example, is strong in the UK and various urban centers of Europe and North America. Those that attend missional churches tend to be younger and urban, with a “global-chic-youth-culture” feel about them. These church thrive where there is a postmodern culture present in the society at large. They are seldom found in third world cities, rural areas, or parts of the world which embrace Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (I didn’t say “never” – I said “seldom”).
Meanwhile, the modern missionary movement has made those very populations (Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist) their primary areas of service. The “unreached people group” movement (which really took off in the late 1970’s) was birthed at the height of modernity’s influence in the church.
I would argue that the cultures of the missional movement and the modern missionary movement are motivated by distinct worldviews. These different beginning points make it difficult for each to “play” in others world. Missional leaders see the Western society around them as needy. Missionary leaders see this same Western society as resource rich. Missional churches struggle to be relevant in their own local context. Missionary agencies struggle to be relevant in a very cross-cultural context.
Can the two be merged? I think so. However, it will take a change in worldviews (on both sides) to make it a fruitful endeavor.