The Great (Irrelevant) Debate: Is your Church Missional or Attractional – Part 2


Be sure to read Part 1 if you haven’t already. I wrote about how talk of the Missional church sometimes wears me out.

If I’m gut-level honest, sometimes I empathize with those who point fingers at the Attractional Church. I did the same “come and see” model of church for two decades. Long enough that I grew tired of it.

I got tired of the performance. Sometimes the “show” wore me out. I would see people come for a while, get on fire and get involved, and then a couple years later they were just gone. They faded away. It no longer worked for them.

It felt like every week had to be better than the week before. Like a hamster on a wheel, the amazing series or event or production that we did last month or last year is gone all too quickly, and now the bar for expectations has been raised—so we have to do better on the next one.

It’s like the actor who is only as good as his most recent movie. He may have been in a blockbuster a couple years ago that made millions of dollars—but if he hasn’t been in anything lately, he is deemed a failure. If our messages aren’t ever-better, if our artistry and videos and dramas and graphic designs and series creativity and building design and coffee flavors aren’t better than last week, then we are stagnant. We are yesterday’s news. And it gets old.

Why? Because we are only as good as our latest message. Or series. Or program. And I get tired of the performing that is driven from the consuming, and sometimes I want to say, “I’m done with all of it.”

Perhaps you are like me—you read in blogs and magazine articles that churches aren’t supposed to try to keep up with or copy culture. No, we are supposed to create culture; we are actually supposed to offer things in our attractional model that haven’t ever been done or seen or thought of anywhere else, because if it has, we are copying, and God forbid we do that. So you try to create, but it wears you out because sometimes you just aren’t that creative. But Sunday is coming so you better think of something; and all the trying and thinking and dreaming and sometimes failing makes you want to give up.

I was a card-carrying, stock-buying proponent of the seeker model from the early 90’s until recently. But sometimes I would get tired of catering toward seekers. Sometimes I wondered if they would ever be pleased. We do everything we can to attract their attention, speak in their language, meet their felt needs—and many of them would suck from the mother church without lifting a hand to help or giving a penny to the cause. Wow that gets old.

So which is it? Is it missional? Or is it attractional?

Is it:

Do everything you can to build relationships with a friend and start spiritual conversations, hoping to lead toward a chance when you can invite them to a service where they will hear how much they matter to God?

Or is it:

Be the love of Jesus right where people live, in a culture you know best where God has given you influence, and be the church? Have no expectation they will ever attend a “church in the box” service with you, but do and be the church with them, right there, where they live?

Which is it? Which is correct? Does it have to be either/or?

This is probably a good place to stop and provide some definition for these terms, at least my definitions.  The rest of this blog series may not make sense unless you understand the terms I use and what I mean when I use them.

Missional = Sent

As a missionary, the church is sent. It does not expect non-followers to adjust their lives or cross multiple cultural boundaries to come to the church. Rather, like God sent His Son Jesus into our culture, every believer is sent to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life.

Attractional = Come to the Box

A compelling ministry built on a “come and see” model. This church does everything it can to remove barriers and offer relevant, life-changing truth and an opportunity to enter a life of following Jesus for everyone who will come to the gathering where it is offered.

Both Missional and Attractional

A few churches are not satisfied with the polarized debate. They don’t believe a church has to be either one or the other. They believe churches can be both Missional AND Attractional. And they are pressing through the ambiguity to be both.

What do you think? Which are you most comfortable with? Do you think it’s possible to be both?

Next week in Part 3 we will look at the shrinking numbers of people attending church—versus the growing percentage of people who are exploring their faith outside of the church.

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Tim StevensComment