A missional guy in an attractional church

May 23, 2010

As I wrote previously, I had to repent of despising my church over years of frustration. After spending time with the church leaders at their “leader’s roundtable” retreat yesterday, I feel a greater unity with them.

But we still have fundamental differences.

We went around the circle of eighteen people, and each person was asked to share their name, how long they’ve been part of the church, and their passion in the area of ministry. “Hi, I’m Jon. I’ve been part of The Journey now for three-and-a-half years. My passion is for missional living, that is, taking the gospel out to a post-Christian society like ours. And by post-Christian, I mean people who have been exposed to church but are turned off by it.”

One of the senior leaders responded, “Well, you’re in the right church.” Appreciative chuckles all around.

Getting people to come is not the goal!

But what I am talking about is quite different from what they are talking about. I talk about “taking the gospel out” while they talk about “welcoming people in.” The buzzwords for these two directions are missional (going out) and attractional (drawing in). Of all the churches we’ve been belonged to, our current church is by far the most attractional. The central focus is on the “Sunday morning experience.” Even outreach events are ultimately about getting people to come on Sundays.

To me, the focus of time, energy and money, the entire flow of motion, is all backwards. But in my excitement, I get all tongue-tied. …Here, maybe this two-minute video will help do a better job of explaining what I mean:

“What about all the people who aren’t like us, but who live around us? Why aren’t they here, too?” Or in my own words: What about all the people who are not interested in our church, and will not be interested no matter how cool we make it? Isn’t Jesus for them, too? Because frankly, these are the people who are my friends, neighbors and coworkers. If you build it, they won’t come. And frankly, getting people to come is not the goal! Or as Neil Cole says, “Don’t plant churches; plant the gospel.”

What about you: Have you thought about how to break the good news of Jesus out of church culture? Or, gentle reader, are you one of the people who would say (like the title of Dan Kimball‘s book), “I like Jesus but not the church”?

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

11 responses to A missional guy in an attractional church

  1. Samia Perkins May 24, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Ah. That does make it clearer. So my question is, for those who love Jesus but not the church, what about fellowship? And what does that look like? Because for me, when I was not going to church, my relationship with God suffered. I got too wrapped up in daily life and did not focus on God enough. Fellowship (okay that is another Christian-ese term) helps me to grow.
    It is not the complete answer, and I still feel something missing in my connection to God, but it does help. So, if not the church, then what?

  2. I don’t think the video explanation goes far enough to justify the Missional Church. It stops at “… and they lived happily ever after”. It doesn’t go into showing what happens next. How it is useful? It spouts a few quick pie in the sky phrases and stops.
    What really is next? Where has it worked and not become attractional?
    I think all missional people need to repent and come back to the attractional church and then live missional lives as an example. Do something missional and take attractional people with them. Not take other missional people!

  3. I’m going to disagree with Chuck on the missional v attractional church. Missional people don’t need to repent and come back to the attractional model. I attend a missional church and we reach out to our community, we serve them, we show them the love of God, and in five years of building the kingdom outside the church walls we’ve had 1 (yes as in singular) person come to church. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the attractional model, but missional does not inevitably lead to attractional. The real core of the missional church (at least as far as I understand it) is in building the Kingdom and building faith in the outer courts. It’s about taking faith out of the pulpit, out of Sunday and into the streets. A lot of people, especially in the USA, have gotten tired of trying to come to church on Sunday. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the Church (cap C) to go out to them. that’s what it really comes down to.

  4. Real quick, I just wanted to comment on the fellowship comment. (I’m sure Jon would love to do this himself, but I’d like to throw my two cents out there)
    This is a question that goes beyond attractional v missional because Fellowship and Christian community does not require a church. Sunday mornings sure help, don’t get me wrong, but even that doesn’t guarantee real community. Real Christian community comes from deliberate interactions with other Christians to build one another up. I’m not saying we need to all move into monasteries or live in intentional community, but we do need to build relationships with other believers and then take the time to invest in one another. Can Sunday mornings help with that? Sure it can, but it can be done outside of Sunday mornings just as easily.

  5. nathan stryker May 28, 2010 at 9:56 am

    i’ve got one buddy in particular. he’s a believer, but he hasn’t gone to any church in years. he doesn’t miss church at all, but he does miss the connection to God. he’s locked into an attractional mindset and frankly isn’t going to take any steps to pursue God. frankly, he’s comfortable in his salvation, so God’s amazing love for him doesn’t really spur him to want to pursue Godliness. any time i have a story about church (in a “funny thing happened at church” sort of way), he finds something to not like and is quick to point out that “those people” are why he doesn’t go to church.
    i think i’m hearing chuck say that missional churches become sort of an island of missions. maybe it would be better for the church as a whole if people with a more missions oriented view-point were bringing their wisdom to the attractional churches. in that sense, i’m definitely learning how to be that to my attractional church. sounds like jon is as well.
    i’ve been at churches that told me to invite my buddy to church and i’ve been at churches that told me to be the church to my buddy, but none of them have really given me an idea of what that looks like. when we talk about missions, we talk about that it’s important, but we never talk about how it works. or how we can be better missionaries. in the attractional model, how much teaching focus is on the mission of attraction? my church is probably running at 85% self-help (or Christ-help, but you know what i mean) and 15% “support the missions” time when we have reports from missions organizations/missionaries in place of a sermon. the focus is generally on why and not on how. i know i need to start learning the how so i can teach the how.

  6. Samia,
    “That does make it clearer.” Eh, make what clearer?
    As for those who love Jesus but not the church, my answer is clear: Do not bring them into a church. Instead, form them into a church! No one can truly follow Jesus without sharing the life of Christ with and through a community of faith. But that community will look quite different from what people normally think of as “a church.”

  7. Chuck,
    Obviously, a two-minute video is not going to explain very much. But where has it worked? All over the world, including right here in the Bay Area. You tend not to hear about them, because, well, they’re not trying to get people to come to their gatherings. Instead, they are empowering the people in their gatherings, sending them out, and living a life of mission together throughout the week.
    The churches where the greatest attractional-to-missional transformation is taking place are, curiously, the old mainline churches. For example, take the Presbyterian Global Fellowship, whom I follow on Twitter (@PGF_) with great interest.

  8. Missional (seems like they are all ‘attractional church haters’) people need to repent. They spend all their time on blogs saying how attractional churches are not doing church, so for one they need to repent for tearing at the attractional church these past severals years. If they really want to affect lives in the (attractional) church … instead of tearing it down, they need to
    A.) repent for their disgust of their brothers (see what they have created in me with all of their posts about how bad we are at church).
    B.) they need to move back into the attactional church with a servants heart and do it submissively (I’m glad Jon shared his earlier repentance about the Saturday afternoon leaders’ meeting where he learned more about his brothers and the moving of the Holy Spirit).
    Try: I had to repent of despising my church … well I thought I could copy in the link. http://networkedblogs.com/47ak8 … still not sure it came in here, just a blogging newby I guess.
    C.) they don’t need to spend time saying ‘why’ missional -OR- ‘how’ missional … INSTEAD they need to spend their time and ‘DO’ missional. They need to take the attractional people with them one at a time and ‘DO’ missional.
    D.) they need to blog their missional experiences as opposed to tear down their attractional frustrations. They don’t have to be all successful experiences. Failure is a good teaching tool also.
    Justapen: I’m not the one who is pitting missional versus attractional! Jon started this post. But I’m tired of enjoying church and being told it is bad. So I’m taking it out on the blog space of my dear close friend who is a christian brother and closer, he is family and in his space because I know he and his cohorts can take it and should be able to take it, because they have been handing it out for a good while and are quite seasonned in their blogo-muffin-staunchness.
    Nathan: Thank you. I do think you are hearing my bent. Bring your wisdom into church. I’m just asking it to be done lived out. Probably not easy to grab attractional people and do missional things, but that would be the goal. Maybe a big missional church can shut down for a summer month and go out and infiltrate several/most churches in there neighborhood and do missional things. Start a spark and hope some fires light. Then go back regroup and do it better. But they have to do it grass roots, face to face. Don’t try to change governance of the visited church. Just change a life or two. Then when those people say … can I go with you. Say ‘no’ like Jesus to the previously Legion-filled and tell them to stay and LIVE right where they are!!!
    Sami: like your sense of concern and openness to understanding to what could be better with both groups.
    Love in Christ, Chuck

  9. Justapen, thank you for jumping in while I was buried under my work-week. I like your explanation of how missional church is “building the Kingdom and building faith in the outer courts.” It’s also important to distinguish, as you did, between “church” as an event, and “church” as community, the living, breathing Body of Christ. The two are not opposed, but they are not the same, either.

  10. Nathan, a challenge with pursuing any missional lifestyle is that it’s much easier to just hold a meeting, sing some songs, say some stuff, and say “job well done.” To actually get out requires us to follow our Master, under the Spirit’s leading. A big problem I’ve had is that going solo is extremely limited in its effectiveness, because it is “just Jon” and not the actual Body of Christ working in relationship.
    In the absence of nearby mentors, we can fall back on remote learning through Shapevine. Then I would say, grab your buddy along with someone from your church, and hit up the next Laundry Love. Your buddy needs to learn that salvation is, well, bigger than “being saved.”
    Besides the Presbyterian Global Fellowship I mentioned in the comments above, another organization that is working to equip existing churches reorienting around outward mission is Allelon.

  11. Well, I will say this, if nothing else all this blog-sporting is causing me to think through what I believe and what I might say. Thanks Jon for egging me on to your blog. Now we will have to get together to discuss in Love much of what has been shared.