At a recent lunch with a colleague I was given the book, ‘The Shaping of Things To Come.’ This is one of those bold reads where you find yourself strongly agreeing with the author on page one and strongly disagreeing with the author on page two (I’m only 30 pages in so far). The authors, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, have my attention as they seek to convince church leaders to abandon their ‘attractional’ model of church ministry in favour of a ‘missional’ approach to ministry.
Simply put, the attractional model seeks to attract people to a particular location where ministry is being carried out. Attractional ministries vary immensely in style, but the common denominator is the commitment to the notion “if we do ‘A’”, or “if we do ‘B’ people will come to our church.” The challenge for the attractional church is to discern what the people are looking for, and to offer those things. The attractional church, by the way, isn’t necessarily a ‘seeker-driven’ ministry. The attractional church often includes congregations where worship is quite formal and traditional. A congregation can have a high view of God’s sovereignty and hold Scripture in the highest regard and still be attractional. Determining whether a congregation is attractional is easy to do. Simply examine the nature of the congregation’s outreach. If there is a concerted effort to invite, bring, or attract people who are outside to come inside, that’s attractional.
Missional, on the other hand, is a ministry that goes out. Missional ministry does not happen in a single location. Missional ministry seeks to engage the outsider on ‘their turf’ and does not seek to compel them or bring them to a place that is foreign to them (i.e. a church).
The authors of ‘The Shaping of Things To Come’ believe that, in the Western context, only the missional approach will suffice for our day. Frost/Hirsch argue that “it is a flaw for the church to be attractional” (19) and maintain that the “Come-to-us” approach to ministry is “unbiblical” (19).
It’s not found in the Gospels or the Epistles. Jesus, Paul, the disciples, the early church leaders all had a Go-to-them mentality. (19)
I’m with Frost/Hirsch……but only partly. I agree that, in recent history, the North American Church has been largely governed by attractional principles. I agree that many congregations have bent over backwards to attract while seldom venturing out from the safety of their own Christian context. I agree that the contemporary church has bought into the ‘Field of Dreams’ principle: Build it, and they will come. In my view, however, the only way that approach can be faulted is when there is an absence of ‘Going out’ principle.
I love how Frost/Hirsch are describing a missional approach to ministry. I’m on board! (so far, anyways). I’m struggling though, to buy into the notion that a missional approach and an attractional approach are mutually exclusive. Why can’t a congregation be marked by both approaches? Should we not be marked by both approaches? Jesus goes out to Simon Peter and Andrew, and having gone out to them, He invites them, “Come, follow Me” (Matthew 4:19).
Yes, I see a lot of going out in the Gospels and the Epistles. Yes, the ‘Great Commission’ is a call to “go” (Matthew 28:19). Certainly, every Christian, and every Christian congregation, ought to be marked by going. And yet, I also think the “Come, follow me” principle remains. In the Book of Acts we find that the result of Christian disciples going out was that communities/gatherings were formed. These gatherings were marked by certain characteristics (see Acts 2:42-45). And as a result of the manner in which they gathered, others were attracted to them and, by God’s grace, were added to the gathering (Acts 2:47).
I still have 193 pages to go. I’m curious about where Frost/Hirsch will take me. I look forward to them pushing me on the missional side. I probably need that. But do I really need to abandon my conviction that those outside Christian communities should be invited to come listen in and observe as we worship?
My view is that coming into an authentic Christian gathering is tantamount to a thirsty person coming to a well. When a congregation is marked by the Word of Christ, the Spirit of Christ and the aroma of Christ, we have every reason to expect that those coming in will have their spiritual thirst quenched (Romans 1:16, 2Corinthians 2:15).
What do you think? What in the world should the church be doing? I look forward to reading your responses.