Much has been said and written to help today’s churches become more missional. Organizations, parachurch communities, and conferences abound in trying to move the Church in this direction. This emphasis is certainly justified in light of how many Evangelical churches are not missional and are either in a state of plateau or decline.
Unfortunately, many churches are not trying in any measurable way to reach the people in their community who are unchurched. Too often, churches satisfy themselves with biblical teaching, music, fellowship groups, or any number of good things. They are intoxicated with a sense of church busy-ness and therefore have a sense that they are on mission. The problem is, these things too often become subtle substitutes for the mission of God. We have to be reminded that our mission is to advance His kingdom on a daily basis, being and making disciples who worship and follow Jesus.
My predecessor as Eastern District Superintendent for the EFCA, Dr. Steve Musser, did a great job speaking to the Eastern District churches about transitioning from being teaching centers to missional outposts. He led us to adopt the motto, “Churches without walls.” Some of our churches really benefited from his efforts, but all of our leaders were challenged to keep the mission in front of our churches. I inherited this value and intend to keep it as long as I’m in this role.
If you want to dive into some good reading about what it means for a church to be missional, you can go here and see some well-thought writing from credible evangelical writers and practitioners.
But in saying that we should be missional, does that mean we should completely discard the idea and value of anything attractional?
Before I address that, let me very succinctly address what it means for a church to be attractional. While much more could and should be said, the larger, more effective attractional churches strategically rely heavily upon using their ability to attract large numbers of people to their gatherings in order to accomplish mission. They focus a lot of energy on the worship services and programs and then they work outward from this standpoint. As a model, this approach is still working in many places.
In spite of the growing number of critics, the continued growth of megachurches in America at the very least suggests that the attractional model of ministry has merits worth studying. Here is a good report for further reading.
In 2011, Billy Hornsby, co-founder and president of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), wrote a book entitled The Attractional Church. In it, he revealed that ARC has a 0 percent rate of effectiveness in their church plants, compared to 68 percent rate among other Evangelical groups. As you could guess from the title of the book, ARC trains leaders for church planting using attractional methodology. But it’s certainly not a pure approach.
In the first chapter Hornsby asked the question, “Is the attractional church missional?” He explained that their church planters are trained with these three convictions:
- Individual members are ‘missional’ (they accept responsibility to share the gospel)
- Individual members are ‘incarnational’ (they accept responsibility to live like Christ outside church)
- Churches are ‘attractional’ (they accept responsibility to bring people into a kingdom mindset in their gatherings)
In other words, while ARC’s approach is distinct and different from some leading missional thinkers, there is the shared understanding that the Church is here on mission to make disciples and advance God’s kingdom.
On the surface, it may seem like missional churches are against doing anything representative of the attractional model and attractional churches are too busy focusing on drawing crowds to spend any time or energy on training members for missional living. In truth, this does happen sometimes. But neither actually should be the case.
If missional churches are going to gather at all, shouldn’t they leverage the gathering for all its worth? If attractional churches are going to make disciples, don’t they need to teach them to be disciples who live on mission with Jesus?
Every Christian should be missional and every church should be attractional.
Therefore, every pastor should strive to lead with a both/and mentality.
Dr. Eddie Cole is District Superintendent of the Eastern District of the EFCA.