A few days ago I asserted that “consumer” church is perhaps an over-simplification. Today I wonder if the word “attractional” is the same kind of thing.
Normally what people mean when they talk about an attractional church is a church that expects people to come to them to hear the gospel, on their terms. They expect others to cross cultural barriers in order to be introduced to the Christian story. If a few brave souls do this, they are socialized out of their old context and into their new “church culture” context. A missional church, by contrast, seeks to cross cultural boundaries and incarnate the gospel in a way that makes sense in each sub-context of an increasingly complex and pluralistic world. This is what is usually meant by the “attractional vs. missional” dichotomy. All well and good.
But how does a missional church incarnate the gospel in new contexts? How does it witness to the reality and power of Jesus’ resurrection? Foundationally by being the kind of community it seeks to multiply in that context. This means being a public community, a body politic, a tangible foretaste of God’s future kingdom, a place where heaven touches earth. It means being attractive to outsiders.
The issue at stake, then, is not whether or not people are attracted to your community, but why they are attracted. What are they attracted to? The quality of the music? The length of the services? The aesthetic sensibilities of the interior decorator? The warm feeling I get in my tummy when that one guy talks? Those are all life-denying dead-ends.
But there is another kind of attractive-ness that should characterize Christian community. It should commend itself to outsiders as a profoundly wonderful way to live, even if it makes demands that many are not prepared to make (Acts 5:13). Ultimately we need to smoking what we’re selling, right?
The result should be a transformed community that really is quite attractive to people. A community of people who seem to really be able to forgive one another and be reconciled with one another. A community of abundant joy and laughter. A community of love where the bad habits of life are broken people are regularly and consistently transformed.
Lesslie Newbigin, that seminal missional thinker, said the church was called to be a foretaste of the kingdom of God, like an appetizer of the new heavens and new earth. What could be more attractive than that? Being truly attractive, it seems, is actually necessary for making sense of the gospel in a post-Christendom context.
So maybe there’s a better term than “attractional” to say what we mean. Alan Hirsch, who apparently coined the term, said (in this video) that he wishes he’d used the term “extractional” instead. Maybe we should just start using it? It seems to more accurately convey what we’re saying is a bad idea.
geoff holsclaw says
as usual, great post. thanks ben. gh
The cross is foolishness to those who are dying (the world). But to those called, the elect, the ones God draws near, it is life saving and the best attraction of all! That is the MAIN attraction!
God Bless Brothers!
Keep focusing on Christ crucified brothers!
Another excellent post Ben – it compliments the consumer church one well.
Loved the Newbigin appetizer sentiment and loved the Hirsch video. I was fortunate enough to be at the Q Conference in Austin when he gave this. At the time, I had only read Forgotten Ways and Alan was still fairly new for me so this presentation was powerful personally.
I like your questions and I'd like to add the question Who are coming to our church? Hopefully, it includes people from outside our faith. But hopefully it's the church hopper too. The church hopper is a different type of searcher – probably the reason why he/she goes from one attractiona/extractional/consumer/transactional/etc. to another.
They may be in search for better music and great sermon ("the obliviously over-churched") and I get frustrated with that but have come to be a little more patient with (only a little though 🙂 Maybe our churches can offer them something better.
But again, hopefully that is only a portion and not our only visitor because that would expose our lack of mission.
Ben Sternke says
Great thoughts, Tim. Thanks for chiming in.
Love the heart and sentiment behind these thoughts Ben, but let me try and push in a little to see if it adds anything.
I would nuance differently the ways that you articulate pop-conceptions of "attractional" and "missional."
I absolutely see where you are coming form when you say that people often see an attractional church as one that "expects people to come to them to hear the gospel, on their terms. They expect others to cross cultural barriers in order to be introduced to the Christian story." But I think it's more than this. I think the heart of attractionality is a "how can we make ourselves appealing" mentality. On this count, understanding the missional church as one that "seeks to cross cultural boundaries and incarnate the gospel in a way that makes sense in each sub-context of an increasingly complex and pluralistic world" could be just as attractional as any other. Pushed to its logical conclusion and you have a practical outworking of the HUP (Homogenous Unit Principle), whereby we seek to replicate Christians and churches by isolating sub-cultures and creating a brand of Christianity just for them.
I'd actually say that asking people to cross cultures is one of the central elements in missional ecclesiology.
Missional Christians are sent and live incarnational lives to be sure, but there always remains the temptation and danger of over-contextualization. We need to hold on to the gospel as a way of life that, in lots and lots of ways, will conflict with each and every culture that it is incarnated into.
Hirsch is right about the dangers of an "extractional" mentality and methodology underlying much of modern ecclesiology, but this runs along side of (not in place of) the drive that we have to be attractive by not living in to a deep gospel that confronts all the different sorts of cultural idols that exist – especially the, "I should be able to have it my way" attitude that persists when we try to create a different kind of church for each and every sub-culture rather than making true fellowship with those who aren't like us a vital component of our incarnational lives.
I totally get the idea of others being attracted to the love, hope, generosity, and compassion that ought to characterize the Body of Christ, but if this was all Jesus was about, I doubt thy'd have hung him on a tree or that he would have emboldened his disciples to stand strong in the face of opposition and persecution – 2 things that always characterize authentic Christian witness and are never all that attractive.
Ben Sternke says
JR, thanks for the thoughts. I think they really do help fill out some more of the discussion.
It seems that the issue at heart is what elements of our ecclesial culture are gospel-core elements, and must not be abandoned or "contextualized," and what elements should we hold lightly to and be willing to change for the sake of crossing cultural barriers. I just heard Jim Collins talk about a business version of this concept: preserve the core while at the same time stimulating progress.
The problem I've seen is that we are usually very confused on what's "core."
Good point, too, on the "offense" of the gospel as well. It's a fragrance of life to some, but smells like death to others. It's both, I know. But the early church essentially converted millions by simply demonstrating a better way of life, as challenging as it was.
This is true about the early church, but there were other dynamics at work as well. They were a persecuted minority which undoubtedly put them in favor with the rest of the population that felt oppressed by the Romans.
I fear the church in the West has lost a lot of its 1st-century power because it's gotten fat and happy, living off the provision of an accommodating host culture, but this is rapidly changing and just how strongly we are able to live into our "core convictions," when it may mean being ostracized, oppressed, and even persecuted, remains to be seen.
Ben Sternke says
Totally agree with this. Reminded of a story where St. Thomas Aquinas was walking with a prelate through one of the grand cathedrals of his day. Referring to a coffer filled with precious coins, the prelate remarked, “Behold, Master Thomas, the church can no longer say, as St. Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none!’” St. Thomas was apparently quick with his retort, “Alas, neither can we say what follows, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.’”
Whoa, that's good – sad, but good.
Luke Dalach says
Ben and JR – hope you guys don't mind me jumping in here….this has been a topic on my mind for a couple years too…and I feel like I'm still working it out.
I agree, that a missional church should be attractive, but that attractiveness should be significantly different from attractional. I also agree that focusing on being attractive with missional values could end up using the same "force" as attractional.
JR, I'm struggling a bit with the idea that a central part of missional ecclesiology is crossing cultures. But at the same time, I'm totally committed to crossing cultures.
In my mind, attractive and attractional are differentiated because a missional church has as it's driving force a sending posture, while the attractional is opposite. Also, a missional church is intimately tied in some way with a mission space in which it exists and is seeking to see more missional communities birthed with in that space.
So put those two together, and you get a fundamental sending impulse in a missional church that seeks to spread missional communities in every space in a city or neighborhood… and in those spaces are people of all races and ethnicities.
Working with IV over the past years and developing a strong heart for multi-ethnicity, I'm actually beginning to wonder if the best bet for a missional church which crosses cultures and becomes multi-ethic is to make room for some sort of cultural oneness AND at the same time work on some sort of citywide-network which connects them all.
But all that to say, I wonder if the sending impulse is the key for a missional church and that has the result of cross-cultures because most places in the world are multi-ethnic.
What do you think?
Ben Sternke says
Great thoughts, Luke. I'm glad you jumped in.
"I'm actually beginning to wonder if the best bet for a missional church which crosses cultures and becomes multi-ethic is to make room for some sort of cultural oneness AND at the same time work on some sort of citywide-network which connects them all. "
I have thought a lot about the same thing, and heard stories of it working exactly like that. I have a friend who visited St. Thomas' Church in Sheffield, England and this is kind of how it plays out for them. Their two most recent missional communities were planted by families who crossed cultures and moved into neighborhoods to be among people very different from them (Iranian Muslims and Slovakian gypsies). They're apparently seeing tons of people start to follow Jesus right in their own neighborhoods – most of the people they "go to church" with are fellow Iranians or gypsies. Some of them are aware of the connection to the larger network, others are not. But that picture of cultural oneness and diversity seems to be being played out in that situation.
Ty Grigg says
I’m coming a little late to the discussion. Ben, great post – you are scratching an itch that I have had for awhile, an uneasiness with the missional/attractional dichotomy especially since it seems to be more attractive to label everything missional these days. One of my mentor-pastors, Wayne, always tells me that the church is called to be both. And it is helpful that Hirsch has clarified the difference b/w being attractional and attractive. I think being concerned with “why we are attracted” really hits it on the head.
Two passages of Scripture that seem to frequently come up in these discussions:
1 Cor. 9:20-23: Paul says, “To the Jews I became a Jew to win Jews…I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some.” Nevermind that Paul was a Jew but still felt the need to become a Jew for the gospel. What’s going on here? Cultural accommodation? Trying to make the gospel attractive? Missionally crossing-cultures? Every side claims this passage as their own.
2 Cor. 2:15-16: We are the aroma of Christ to God among those being saved and those perishing. To the one a fragrance of death and to the other a fragrance of life.
I have done any in depth study of either passage but they seem to come up a lot in these discussions. Thoughts?
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for commenting, Ty. It seems to all have to do with what we mean by "attractional" – seems like it's used however we want to use it, just like "missional."
Like JR mentioned above, I think there is some warrant to defining attractionality as having a "how can we make ourselves appealing" mentality, which isn't what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor 9.
I had a thought on the "fragrance" passage: it seems that often churches that pride themselves on their "fragrance of life" are often attractive for all the wrong reasons, and those that pride themselves on their "fragrance of death" are offensive for all the wrong reasons?
I suggest we have a missional learning commons debate on this one … good post Ben