What does it mean to be a “missional church?” The Rev. Joan VanBecelaere shares her insights after attending a “Change the World” conference at one of the most successful missional mainline churches in the country.

By guest blogger, the Rev. Joan VanBecelaere, Ohio-Meadville District Executive and Central East Regional Group (CERG) Lead

One of the most successfully mission-oriented churches in the United Methodist Church is Ginghamsburg UMC in a semi-rural suburb of Dayton OH. This is the fourth largest church in the UMC, one of the most diverse, and has been widely praised as one of the most influential churches in America by news entities ranging from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post.

The 5000 member, 3-campus church is very clear and focused on its missional outreach and message.  They run over nineteen different community service ministries in the Dayton area, including food pantries and car, furniture, clothing, medical equipment, pet care, rent/utility assistance and other ministries.   They run after-school, mentoring and tutoring programs for at-risk children.

They are currently building 24 houses and rehabbing old ones in some of the most impoverished parts of Dayton.  They offer classes on money management, GED, 12 step, employment counseling, English and more.  They have started and continue to support $5.6 million in sustainable relief projects, schools and clinics in Darfur, Sudan, and run regular rebuilding trips to Kentucky, Louisiana and Haiti.   And a whole lot more.  (see their website: www.ginghamsburg.org)

Minimalist Structure:

I was at Ginghamsburg a few weeks ago for their annual “Change the World” conference where I learned that this powerhouse church operates its many transformational ministries with a very streamlined, minimalist structure — a 12-member Leadership Board,  three on-going committees and a number of teams that come and go as needed to do the work.   Just three standing Committees – Human Resources,  Financial Resources and Operations.  This covers the formal needs of the organization and allows them to maximize energy for mission while cutting way back on the need for meetings.  The church also has a 5-member lead staff team that includes the senior pastor, a new church development pastor, an operations exec, a business exec and a discipleship ministries exec.

Keys to Leadership:

There are a also a few simple key components to Ginghamsburg’s concept of leadership.

  • Healthy churches are reliant on their leaders’ being healthy according to senior pastor, Mike Slaughter.   One cannot lead someone farther than you are yourself.  Leaders must continually aspire to grow.
  • Slaughter also urges congregations to be missional rather than attractional.  It’s no good to bring thousands of people into the church building, he says,  if they are not being changed and transformed.  Instead, the leaders must focus the church on the mission, then good news.  “If its’ not good news for the poor, it’s not the gospel” according to Slaughter.
  • At its core, a truly transformational, missional church only works when the leadership lets go of “numbers neurosis” and bureaucracy and frees people to go out into the world and serve without a lot of oversight.  The idea is that people are not looking for meetings; they are looking for meaning and are willing to work for it.

It’s pretty amazing to see what can be accomplished with minimal structure and maximum commitment to mission.


Rev. Joan Van Becelaere has served as the District Executive for the Ohio-Meadville District since July 2007 and currently also serves as the Regional Lead for the Central East Regional Group (CERG). Previously, Rev. VanBecelaere was Vice President for Student Services at Iliff Theological School in Denver, CO where she also taught Unitarian Universalist history and polity classes. More…

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.