Christian Communities and Mission

Aim and Focus

The Christian Communities and Mission Study Group understands local Christian communities as; a) the hermeneutic of the gospel and; b) meeting God’s future as it comes towards us in the shape of the reign of God within the particular time and place that we find ourselves. This requires these communities to be constantly adapting and changing as they orient themselves towards God’s preferred and promised future in a rapidly changing world. We believe study and research in how local churches change to be increasingly faithful in their everyday apostolicity is urgently needed.

We imagine Christian communities broadly. They include denominationally affiliated and independent local churches, religious communities and congregations, new church plants, so-called ‘fresh expressions’ of church, and ‘new monastic’ communities.

The theological sources of this work are threefold at least;

  1. The missio Dei – we believe the missio Dei to be axiomatic for ecclesiology. A large proportion, possibly worldwide, of local Christian communities and the systems that support them were formed in modernity and therefore with the culture and norms of modernity, Christendom and colonialism (although see later discussion on the limits of this assumption). If adopting the stance of the missio Dei is indeed a paradigm shift as Bosch (1991) claims then it is no surprise that there is deep resistance to the implications of this ‘about face’ within such communities and the systems that support them. Researching how and why Christian communities may make this paradigm shift such that they might embody the missio Dei continues to be vital work.
  2. Andrew Walls (2002) has clearly shown that the history of the waxing and waning of Christianity over the centuries demonstrates that local Christian communities can flourish and they can die, never to be seen again. For example, there is no Christian Community in North Africa contiguous with that of the one present at the time of Augustine of Hippo. Thus, while we appreciate the contribution of congregational studies, ecclesiology and ethnography and will need to draw on all these fields in our own work we do not believe they are sufficient in themselves. As theologians we are invited to deep theological reflection on the work and potential future of Christian congregations (broadly defined).
  3. The ‘missional church’ movement, arising from the work of Lesslie Newbigin and later the “Gospel and our Culture Network” (GOCN) has long been working on these questions, particularly amongst Protestant mainline denominations in the west. While this movement has no monopoly on such questions, this group will need to stay in critical contact with developments in ‘missional church’ as well as broadening the concerns across the spectrum of denominations represented in IAMS. There is a large amount of literature published over almost two decades, too large to cite here. A recent example is Franke (2020).

Further implications of local Christian communities taking mission seriously and areas of contestation in this field (which may prove fruitful areas of research) are;

  1. The return of the locus in which theology is generated to the local church.
  2. The relationship between ordained and lay leadership in local Christian communities.
  3. How and where leaders are identified, discerned, and theologically educated and formed for mission.
  4. The relationship between a local church and its ‘world’ or context. Issues of contextualisation (or, as some prefer, cultural negotiation) require urgent attention.
  5. The place of local churches formed outside of Christendom and modernity in this debate – we add a further paragraph regarding this here, especially in relation to “missional church”;

This is an issue important for the global church. A lot of existing research is emerging out of the challenges of mission in the western world, but many practitioners and theologians in the non-western world are also passionately interested in the mission of the local church and reimagining ecclesial futures (cf. Bolger 2012).  In order to discuss ‘ecclesial futures’ in the global majority world, we need to be attentive to how churches are engaging with the coming Kingdom in their own way amongst their people in the majority world. This is because western and non-western Christianities do not always share the same historical and epistemological background. While Newbigin’s critique of the western churches and the subsequent discussion about the missional church among his followers (GOCN) emerged out of the historical background of post-Christendom in the west, some majority world Christian churches do not share such an experience of Christendom and post-Christendom. Thus, when we talk about the ecclesial futures in the majority world there is a whole new task of listening, research, analysis and theorising.



Bosch, David J. (1991), Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Bolger, Ryan, ed. (2012) The Gospel after Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Franke, John R. (2020) Missional Theology: An Introduction, Grand Rapids MI: Baker.

Walls, Andrew (2002), The Cross-cultural Process in Christian History, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.



The Christian Communities and Mission study group began with a conversation amongst a group of 16 interested IAMS members and delegates at the 2016 Assembly in Korea (the Group was officially accepted in June 2017). These members represented Mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox denominations and included Rev Canon Dr Nigel Rooms, Rev Prof Darren Cronshaw, Rev Dr Seong Sik Heo, Prof. Nelus Niemandt, Rev. Dr. Cristian Sebastian Sonea, Prof. Sr Marie-Hélène Robert, and Dr. Timothy van Aarde.

In the run-up to the 2020/2022 assembly, the conveners (with Dr Steve Taylor) stimulated writing and contributions on Christian Communities and Mission:

  • Developing a new journal Ecclesial Futures (with other sources of material beyond IAMS) which from 2022 is published Diamond Open Access with Radboud University Press in the Netherlands. In mid-2022 we have published 27 papers in five issues so far since 2020, with accompanying book reviews. They are all available at: Contributions of around 6,000 words are very welcome.
  • Encouraging scholars offering papers in our Study Group track at IAMS Europe, St. Augustin, Bonn, Germany, 23-27 August 2019.
  • Connecting with the International Research Consortium Annual Conference – this will become the International Consultation on Ecclesial Futures from 2022.
  • Contributing to the Ecclesial Futures’ August 2021 International Missional Research workshop series.

At the 2022 Sydney Assembly, 21 papers were presented in our study group in the hybrid format – some on-site and some online. The countries represented by those who presented were Australia, Germany, Pakistan, New Zealand, Myanmar, Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, USA and the UK. Much learning occurred across many boundaries and the strength of interest and scholarship in our study group theme was amply affirmed.


Christian communities and mission study group’s Convener:
Rev Canon Dr Nigel Rooms
Email: nigel.rooms[@]

Dr Lynne Taylor
Email: lynne.taylor[@]