The Great (Irrelevant) Debate: Is your Church Missional or Attractional – Part 4


If you haven’t read the previous articles in this series, check them out:

  • Part 1 was about my frustration with those who elevate the “missional” church as the answer.

  • In Part 2, I unpacked my frustration with the “attractional” church—a model I practiced for more than 20 years.

  • In Part 3, we looked at the stark reality of the shrinking 40% of the population for which “going to church” is still working, and the growing 60%, many of whom are finding spiritual answers outside of the organized church.

I am convinced the landscape is changing. More people are exploring their faith outside of “going to church.” Even among regular church attenders, very few do so every week. With podcasts and websites, church members can keep up with church whether it is our own or that preacher they like from across the country.

For me, the debate between attractional and missional is irrelevant. I believe both are important. I believe both can learn something from the other. I grow tired of church leaders who elevate their style of church by diminishing all others. We all have something to learn from each other.

Many point to the New Testament to defend how they do church. “We follow the Bible.” That’s nice. It really is. But with thousands of denominations who all also claim to use the Bible as their guide, I’m not sure that statement clears anything up.

I believe the New Testament tells us how the early Christians did church. I don’t think it prescribes how to do church. That’s an important distinction.

Some people reading this article are deeply committed to the missional church. There are large networks built around supporting, embracing, and fanning the flames of the missional church movement. If that is you, lean into it. Do everything you can to help your people become ever-more engaged in gospel conversations with their neighbors and co-workers.

Others are deeply committed to the attractional church philosophy. Much to the chagrin of those who claim it is dead, I see thousands of churches still making an impact through offering compelling (yes, sometimes entertaining) weekend services to make it easy for first-time guests to hear the gospel. To you I would say, keep crushing it! If it is helping you build bridges to people who are not interested in church, then keep finding more creative ways to get their attention.

I work with churches that have been around for a very long time. Their primary purpose is to love and shepherd and care for the families that are already attending. They aren’t looking for growth as a measure of success. They want to know how well they are loving their members, and how well those members are loving each other. There is something about the heart of those churches that is very endearing and even attractive. I’m not going to judge a congregation who loves each other well.

I work with churches that are highly charismatic in their expression of the spiritual gifts. I work with churches that are highly traditional, with hand-bells and robed choirs that sing in Latin. I work with leaders of micro-church movements – networks of like-minded home churches that gather once a month or once a quarter all together for worship.

Some churches are highly programmed. Others are very simple. Some are extremely committed to social justice issues in their city. Others focus their outreach on the other side of the world.

You can’t do everything. You can’t be everything.

You can be you.

You can lean on the unique giftedness of the people you have. You can do what God has called you to do without pointing fingers at what others do. You can do it with excellence, integrity, passion and prayer. You can elevate and promote what you do without saying it is the only way.

And in whatever method you find to “do” church – it can be both missional and attractional. It can be about both sending and gathering. It can be about equipping your people to be a difference in their homes and workplaces. And it can also be about putting on an attractive weekend service that makes it easy for your members to invite the people they care about the most.

Although this is my final in this four-part series, it is hardly a conclusion. I’m hoping it sparks a dialogue that contains honest questions and serious doubts. And I trust it happens with grace and love.

Let’s start now. I’d love you to add to the conversation in the comments.

Tim Stevens3 Comments