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.