Theology Thursday: Missional Versus Covenantal Communities

Students in a missional community conduct a Bible study

Imagine you have been walking forever down a secluded road. Not a soul is around. You are exhausted. No food, no water, and hope for rescue is fading fast. Now imagine you come to a fork in the road with two signs. One sign reads, ‘Private Property: Permit Required.’ The other reads, ‘Happy Valley Welcomes Everyone.’ Without any other information to go on, which way would you go? More than likely, you would head to Happy Valley. I know I would. Happy Valley represents a community that welcomes everyone, whereas the other location requires you to either own the property or have some sort of relationship with the owner before you can join the community.

Missional Versus Covenantal Communities

While not a perfect analogy, these two communities represent the difference between a missional community and a covenantal community. Let’s define the two terms and then discuss them within the context of Christian Education.

What Is a Covenantal Community?

A covenantal community requires that all members agree with the purpose and vision of the community. There is usually a set of beliefs, rules and/or behaviors that must be followed to stay within the community. Often there is a required ‘permit’ (i.e., a covenant) that everyone signs onto and adheres to.

What Is a Missional Community?

Like a covenantal community, a missional community also has a purpose and a vision. However, the community is open for anyone to join. The goal is to ‘welcome everyone’ and the hope is that many who come into the community from the outside will come to understand, accept and embrace the community’s purpose.

Christian Education: Beliefs of the School

Christian universities tend to be either covenantal or missional communities. Those that are covenantal communities focus on training and equipping Christians exclusively. Every student, staff and faculty member has made a profession of faith in Jesus. The institution itself often requires everyone to sign a statement of faith. A simplistic way to describe these Christian universities is that you believe before you belong.

Not all Christian universities require that students be Christian to attend. These schools fit the missional community mold. These universities seek to bring Christian education to all students regardless of their current worldview. The simplistic way to describe this type of Christian university is that you belong before you believe.

GCU’s Missional Statement

What about GCU? Is GCU a missional or a covenantal community? GCU’s new mission statement makes their stance very clear. The opening phrase says, “GCU is a missional, Christ-centered university ….” Thus, GCU is Happy Valley in our analogy above.1 GCU welcomes all students, regardless of worldview. There is no faith requirement to become a GCU student. While there is no faith requirement, GCU is very much a “Christ-centered university” (the next phrase within the GCU Missional Statement). GCU is also majority Christian with over 80% of both traditional and non-traditional students identifying as Christians.2 Among this 80%, many became Christians during their time at GCU thanks in no small part to the missional environment that exists.

The Steppingstones of a Christian Missional Community

One might think of a missional community (such as GCU) as a path with a series of steppingstones. Ideally, each person joining the community will eventually step on each of the stones mentioned below. However, not everyone will. A missional community understands this and accepts it. For example, some may only step on the first two stones and go no further. For whatever reason, these individuals have decided not to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior at this point in their life. Even with this rejection, a missional community understands that they have still been able to welcome and love that person. They also understand that God may not be done with him or her yet.

Here are the steppingstones:

  • Stone #1 - Welcome: We welcome everyone into the community. "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7, ESV).
  • Stone #2 - Love: We show Christ’s love to all. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
  • Stone #3 - Believe: We encourage and pray that everyone will accept God’s gracious gift of salvation through Jesus. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21).
  • Stone #4 - Grow Into Maturity: We disciple and equip all believers so they can train others also. "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Timothy 2:2).
  • Stone #5 – Flourish: We help each other to seek God’s will, be faithful, and grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord and others. "Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:3-4).

May you go forth and be missional. Who knows…? You might be the one person God uses to help a tired, hungry soul find Happy Valley.

The only exception to this is students in the College of Theology. Since these students are preparing for Christian ministry, all are required to sign a statement of faith. For the reasons just mentioned, the College of Theology is a covenantal community.

2 The 80% percentage comes from GCU’s most recent Integration of Faith, Learning and Work Survey (2021 data).


Approved by Faculty for the College of Theology on Sept. 12, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.