Archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ category

Missional v. Attractional

December 16, 2008

In contemporary church life, there are numerous terms to describe the myriad ways that churches seek to reach the lost and engage our culture for Christ. Two models that are prevalent among evangelical churches (including Southern Baptists) are the “missional” model and the “attractional” model. Unfortunately, these are terms that many in our churches are unfamiliar or, perhaps, have a wrong understanding.

In a nutshell, the “missional” model emphasizes the church being “on-mission” or “sent out” by God, engaging the world by going out into the market place. We become ambassadors for Christ as a lifestyle through service, ministry and meeting people out in the community. It is taking the gospel outside the walls of the church building and into the community. It is the church scattered as individuals and small groups, meeting people where they are.

The “attractional” model is probably more familiar and prevalent among evangelical churches. The emphasis is on “reaching out” to bring people into the church gathered together (worship, Bible study, affinity groups, etc.). Programs,  ministries and outreach efforts are designed to bring people “in.” People are attracted by the offerings that the church provides for various age-groups whereby they can (hopefully) build relationships with believers and are exposed to the gospel message through these programs. Attractional churches may or may not be intentionally seeker-sensitive.

There are pros and cons to either appoach, and truthfully, most evangelistic churches have some blend of the two models; though more traditional, established churches tend to follow the attractional model while many newer church plants (particularly in urban settings) lean toward the missional model.

As our culture moves toward a post-Christian world-view, the missional model will become more necessary if we wish to continue to reach people for Christ. The shift will be slower in the Bible Belt, where the attractional model has a long history and is still generally effective.

Alan Hirsch, author of  The Forgotten Ways and a proponent of the missional model, states:

“The attractional model, which has dominated the church in the West, seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church—what I call outreach and in-grab. But this model only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional model has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional church models are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. People cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

A missional theology is not content with mission being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.”

While you may not agree with Hirsch’s analysis of the attractional model, he makes a powerful case that, as believers, we are all missionaries to our culture. Personally, I think churches should be attractional and missional. The question we have to ask ourselves – Are we making an impact for the kingdom of God in our community beyond the walls of our churches?

Food for thought.