Posted by: michaelhanegan | October 12, 2008

Can an Institution Be/Become Missional?

This is a question that has come up in numerous conversations that I have had with other leaders who are trying to be missional in their own lives and are working for this same transition in theri communities of faith. Let me share with you three typical answers I get to this type of question…

  1. No. An institution by its very nature cannot be missional. This perspective usually means one of two things: (1) We “must” (their concept not mine) totally scrap the way that we do church. Find some organic way to meet in homes have flexible (a.k.a. little to no) leadership, don’t take up a collection, and meet in a circle on couches (pews are SO Christendom). or (2) An institution is one that is so bogged down in tradition, ritual, and empty theology that it is virtually impossible (and probably unadvisable) to even attempt such a transition.
  2. All established churches are “too far gone” in the Christendom paradigm that the only way to recover or reactivate the missional church is through planting and reproduction. Don’t hear what I’m not saying, church planting is a fantastic way to serve the Kingdom of God and certainly makes this easier because their is no real “transition” that has to be made. However, to suggest that God is ultimately unhappy with the paradigm of all established churches and that all planted churches by their very nature avoid the same trappings and reductions of the Gospel is both naive and dishonest.
  3. Yes. God can and will, with bodies of believers who are willing to answer the call, lead that community of faith to becoming missional. I belive this one to be true. People throughout history have been able to come from positions of unfaithfulness or uncooperativeness to alignment with and participation in the will and mission of God. The same is still possible today.

Darrell Guder in The Continuing Conversion of the Church, sheds some light on what it means to be an institution and how that affects that community of faith’s ability to be the missional people of God. He writes…

The problem with the transition from movement to institution, according to Bosch, is the loss of a creative tension, still found in Antioch, between the “settled ministry of bishops (or elders) and deacons, and the mobile ministry of apostles, prophets, and evangelists.” He goes on to say that this transition is unavoidable and inevitable. Movements do not remain movements: they either become institutions or they disappear. This is a sociological axiom. When a group of people gathers the second time  to continue doing what they did when they gathered the first time, they have become an institution. Thus, the issue is not of avoiding institutionalization. Movements that claim that they are not institutions are practicing self-delusion. In fact, the attempt to conceal the institutional reality, the attempt to maintain the facade of a movement while actually functioning as an institution, is a very dangerous one. The apparent spontaneity, charismatic adventerousness, and flexibility of such groups often camoflauge highly manipulative and authoritarian leadership styles that are not subject to the controls and challenges which open institutional structures can provide.

The real problem, then, is not that movements become institutions. The problem is what happens to the central and driving mission of the movement when this necessary transition takes place. Bosch speaks of this problem as a “loss of much of [the movement’s] verve.”

Its white-hot convictions, poured into the hearts of the first adherents, cooled down and became crystallized codes, solidified institutions, and petrified dogmas. The prophet became a priest of the establishment, charisma became office, and love became routine. The horizon was no longer the world but the boundaries of the local parish. The impetuous missionary torent of earlier years was tamed into a still-slowing rivulet and eventually into a stationary pond.

Guder will go on to basically ask the following question:

Is the institution in question shaped by the Mission of God, or is the Mission of God shaped by the presuppositions and cultural biases of the community of faith?

In other words, who’s in control? God or the institution?

What would be said of your community of faith? What can be done about it?

Can an Institution Be/Become Missional?



  1. Great post and great answers. I heare those kinds of questions and answers all the time from church-planter types…whom I love. Good stuff.

  2. I like these points and the way you answered these questions. As a church planter we get these questions often. As a guy who left an established church, I have to agree.

    I also agree with Snyder that revival is possible (although statistically 7% of declining churches can revive) but it takes repentance, change, and a huge paradigm shift. It is possible but may be too difficult for entrenched leaders to break out of their boundaries and reach the lost for Jesus. This can only be done through the Holy Spirit and a willingness to be led by that Spirit.

    Thanks for this blog, I enjoy reading much of what you have.

    Ron Clark

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