Attractional vs. Missional: A Third Way

mcchurchSo should be we attractional or missional? Which is better?

The danger of the attractional way of doing church is that it can turn disciples into consumers. If the reason I choose church A rather than church B is its great youth program, its great preaching, and its great coffee, well, my thought process is entirely self-centered. I joined that church because of what I can get out of it. 

On the other hand, missional churches ask their members to be prepared to serve in the Kingdom — not just to serve other members but to serve a lost and hurting world. This surely leads to a more meaningful, more authentic — indeed, a more scriptural — kind of discipleship.

In a follow up article in “Out of Ur” (a Christianity Today blog), Andy Rowell says,

Even Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark’s What Americans Really Believe lauds the strengths of megachurches as compared to small churches. “Those who belong to megachurches display as high a level of personal commitment as do those who attend small congregations” (p.48). …

But megachurches are not the only ones thriving. Many new churches are being planted, and many of those would describe themselves as having a “missional” mindset. David Olson reports that in the fourteen diverse denominations he studied, all the denominations that were growing were planting lots of churches; specifically all those denominations planting at least one new church per year for every one hundred existing churches continued to grow. The denominations also range between a 52 and 88 percent survival rate in new churches. First year attendance ranges between 44 and 145 (Olson, 149). In 13 out of 14 denominations, new churches are growing steadily (Olson, 150). The point is that though megachurches are continuing to thrive, new churches (often “missional”) are also a very effective part of the American church.

In short, although megachurches (churches with attendance over 2,000) tend to follow the attractional model, they invoke just as much commitment from their members as is typical of much smaller churches. In fact, in Megachurch Myths, Scott Thumma concludes that the megachurches achieve higher commitment levels, which is almost certainly true. After all, in bigger churches the need for volunteers is much greater and the ability to match talents to task is much greater. I mean, a church simply cannot grow that large without getting its members involved. 

But there’s a huge difference between “involved” and “missional.” All churches are concerned to get their members involved. Which church doesn’t need more nursery volunteers? more help with the teen ministry? But missional churches see merely being involved as woefully inadequate. We need to be involved with the lost and a hurting world that surrounds us. Involvement in folding bulletins and passing out communion is nice, but involves very little sacrifice and does very little to build God’s Kingdom.

My own view, for whatever it’s worth, is that both approaches to doing church are legitimate but neither is sufficient. Rather, we need more missionally attractive churches, or attractive missional churches. We need to be both.

It’s entirely legitimate for a family to be concerned with the quality of their congregation’s children’s ministry or teen ministry. And it’s entirely appropriate to be concerned about the quality of the preaching and the worship. After all, the assembly helps us all grow and be disciplined. We all have spiritual needs, and a church that has no interest in meeting them isn’t much of a church.

On the other hand, a church with great worship and great programs that doesn’t challenge its members to get involved in God’s mission is little more than a social club. Country clubs need volunteer involvement, too. If we aren’t busy serving people outside our congregation, we are plainly self-centered, self-indulgent people.

However, if a church figures out how to be attractive, to serve its members’ legitimate needs, while drawing them into a life of missional service, well, that’s going to be a very special congregation indeed.

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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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4 Responses to Attractional vs. Missional: A Third Way

  1. Jim Kuykendall says:

    Everyone is a consumer, and have always been. I agree that we need both types of churches. It really is our mission to "find people where they are in life, and bring them to where God wantes them to be." That is a great quote from the Stone Campbell movement that still applies today. If we have to change the name, or have more modernistic programing to attrack people to us – along with our members developing a mission minded purpose, then so be it. It takes all of this to "equip and prepare the members. We must always be reinventing the church to meet the needs of the people.

    That being said, The method of presenting the message must always change – but the MESSAGE, or the gospel must remain the same. Yours was a great article.

    As a leader at Grace Crossing Community Church of Christ in the Conroe area I believe that the process of being both and working toward being a mission – outreach church is underway, We look forward to great things for the Lord!! Stay Tuned!

  2. Doug says:

    Is it possible that the Church of Christ, as a whole, has confused “involvement” with “Mission”? I see many Church members who are perfectly contented and are convinced that they are doing the total mission of the Church by being involved with the Nursery or Teen’s in their Church. Somehow, they miss the scriptural message that Jesus was continually involved with the outcasts and despised. Baby’s and Teen’s need their attention too but not at the expense of the outcast and depised. Go to Prision… Go to Jail… Go to the local Drug Rehab, you’ll find yourself as close, maybe closer, to Jesus as you are on Sunday morning sitting in a padded pew.

  3. Doug says:

    God our Father

    Your son welcomed all who came to him,
    Even the outcasts and despised.
    Give me a faith that dares to come to you,
    trusting only in your love.
    Give me a faith that accepts others,
    as I have been accepted through your Son.

    Amen.

  4. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug asked,

    Is it possible that the Church of Christ, as a whole, has confused “involvement” with “Mission”?

    Absolutely. It’s not they are different but that mission is much bigger than involvement. The military needs the USO and payroll clerks and the engineers. You can’t be much of an army without those things. But a military with no ground troops — whose soldiers never “march in the infantry, ride in the calvary, shoot the artillery, zoom o’er the enemy” is not a military at all — even if it has the best payroll system in history.

    Doing payroll for the army is an essential element of a functioning army, and those who do such work should never feel inferior or unworthy. But if we only do payroll, we’re a failure and disappointment.

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