Attractional vs. Missional: Alan Hirsch Joins the Conversation

mcchurchAlan Hirsch is the author of The Shaping of Things to Come (a great book by the way) and an important thought-leader in the movement toward greater missionality. In a recent post at “Out of Ur,” a Christianity Today blog, he addressed Dan Kimball’s comments questioning the evangelistic effectiveness of missional churches. Hirsch writes, 

* I certainly don’t believe that attractional is not working. What I have said is that it has appeal to a shrinking segment of the population, and that persistence with a church growth style, attractionalism, is in the long run a counsel of despair. Are you suggesting that we simply stay with what we have got? Surely not bro?

Interesting, isn’t it? You see, most attractional churches do pretty well with lapsed Christians — folks who grew up in a Christian home but drifted away as adults. How well do they do with people who’ve never known Jesus?

* If we persist with our standard measurements for mission, we will miss the point. The issue is what idea of church is more faithful to the Scriptures. Genuine fruitfulness, surely, cannot simply be measured by numbers but by ‘making disciples.’ How does one measure that? By all accounts, current churches are made up largely of admirers of Jesus but few genuine disciples/followers—this is not a biblical idea of fruitfulness!

* Besides, the early church would not measure up to the current metrics!! If Rodney Stark is right, there were only 25,000 believers by year 100AD. Not exactly mind boggling church growth. Some attractional churches are larger.

* If we stick with the prevailing measures, we will miss the level of incarnational engagement with quantitative measures alone. How do we measure that? Incarnation takes time and loving presence (witness) among a people. Working with post-Christian folks ain’t easy because we have lost our credibility and have to work darn hard to regain it. I think there is much work to do here.

The only other thing I will say is that we as believers, live by a vision of what can be … we cannot allow ourselves to be constrained by pragmatics alone. Vision precludes that and is driven by holy discontent to see a greater manifestation of the Kingdom.

Well, this is tough, isn’t it? If I follow him correctly, he’s saying that it’s more important to be faithful than to grow — and I agree. Moreover, he’s warning us that there’s a very limited pool of lapsed Christians. To convert the rest of the world, we’re going to need a better model of how to do church.

People who’ve grown up with no knowledge of Jesus are often very skeptical of church and Christians. They have little interest in visiting our brick buildings and in hearing our song leaders or bands. To get them interested in Christianity, we have to show them Jesus in practical ways that touch their lives.

Does this  mean that a more traditional church can’t be missional? Hirsch would likely say yes. We can’t simply advertise our great worship (why would a non-Christian care?) or show our sermons on TV (they won’t be watching). Rather, we have to move the interface between God’s church and the lost from the pew to the world.

But I think that this doesn’t mean we have to re-organize into struggling communities of 20 or 30. We can, I think, take advantage of the numbers and resources God has given us and make a dramatic mark on the world, if we’ll just have the right vision. In fact, the resources and pool of talent of a large, traditionally structured church can be seen as a huge advantage, if we’ll intentionally move into God’s mission.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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5 Responses to Attractional vs. Missional: Alan Hirsch Joins the Conversation

  1. I think part of the difficulty with these alternatives is the seeming presumption that either of these alternatives has anything to do with the organization we call church. Being effectively missional or attractional has to do with people seeking to emulate Jesus in their lives.

    The church thing should be after the fact, not before. And behaving as if the "church" is the driver of evangelism contributes to the problem because it makes it a group matter rather than an individual matter.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    The attractional idea is so built off of modernistic assumptions. Attractional only attracts ‘church” people. If you look at the advertisements and other things like the “Facing the Giants” movie; they are bathed in church talk. Whether we want to admit it or not attractional is for attracting other “churched” people. Missional actually sees things through a lens of presenting the ideas of Christianity to areligious or non-Christian religious people through whatever means are best. Not just a traditional “Bible Study” but through other more appropriate means for post modern people who have no pre-supposed ideas or assumptions and who are predisposed with skepticism against most formal organized religions. Would we please define "working". We can drag people to be baptized all day long and never make one disicple. The real definition of "working" is not baptisms, attendance, contribution or any of those things; it is transformation.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    David,

    I agree that individual Christians do the evangelism and benevolence, and so spiritual formation is of critical importance.

    However, as I read Eph 4 the leaders of the congregation are tasked with equipping the members to serve others.

    And as I read Heb 10:24-25, we are all charged with spurring our brothers (sticking sharp, painful pieces of iron in their sides!) on to love and good works.

    Therefore, it's individuals, members as a body, and leaders — all.

    Now, obviously, nothing in scripture justifies the notion that the leaders or staff are to do the evangelism or the benevolence. Or even that they must take the initiative.

    Rather, their job is to help the membership be formed into Christ-like disciples who are equipped to serve and aware of the mission God has given them.

    That being the case, all congregations should be missional. And all Christians should be missional.

    And congregations filled with missional people should be attractive because of those who are in it and how they live together — not the quality of the Sunday morning worship gathering.

    So I think I've about talked myself into agreeing with you — if the members aren't properly formed and equipped, the rest doesn't matter.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    I agree. But I'm not sure how to tell if we're being successful. I can measure baptisms and tell if we have a problem (we do). But if we have baptisms, it's hard to tell whether we have the baptisms for the wrong reasons.

    How do you measure the spiritual health of a congregation? Or is it even possible?

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    If I may Jay? Please don’t take this as criticism but as an attempt to answer your questions. The business like institutionalism of modernity is what gave statistics the ultimate say in our churches (all brands included, cofC, and Baptist etcetera). Under this system success must be measured in finite terms and statistics. So the modernistic church developed its scorecard: baptisms, attendance, contribution, involvement and so on. All of which may be measured with finite statistical science. All which can occur with statistical success but in tandem with complete spiritual failure. Just look at Flavil’s latest little book that statistically compares the churches of Christ in these things against other denominations for vindication. The presupposed idea is that we must be constantly looking at finite data to determine success or failure. You know when I read the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor Jesus never measures the churches by their contribution, or attendance or baptisms; he measures them by their spirit. He tells the rich people of Laodicea that they had forgotten God, the Ephesian they had no love for each other anymore and so on. While these things cannot be measure in finite science I believe they can be measured by our spirits. We all know when we see unequivocal transformation in someone’s life. The person who was a racist and now regularly makes friends with people who are of different race. The person who was an alcoholic but now is no longer a slave to that demon. The man who was addicted to pornography but now practices mental monogamy with his wife. I could go on but the simple definition of faith is transformation. At least that is what Paul seems to say in Romans 12. If Jesus could tell us these things I about the churches in Asia minor I think we could use the same measuring stick of “transformation” when we look at our congregations. While it can not be measure in percentages or real integers it is the evidence of God’s work. We will have to let go of the old scorecard. This is very difficult if this is the way we have been measuring ourselves for the last 200 years. I would recommend that elders begin shaping things in manner that lends itself to transformation. Public testimonies, Bible classes that focus more on self awareness in the light of God’s character and then his grace, and so on. There are actually some tools that help elderships guide their congregations to a transformation culture from a modern one of being BORED. You know what BORED stand for in the church of modernity.
    B-Busyness
    O-Obligation
    R-Ritual
    E-Education
    D-Duty
    Peace,
    JB

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