What In The World Should The Church Be Doing?

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.

2 thoughts on “What In The World Should The Church Be Doing?

  1. This is a really relevant post.
    Having grown up in the church since a week old and survived the whole Christian culture vacuum I have some strong opinions on the usefulness of church as we currently know it.
    Over the past 3-4 years I have come to the point where I can say…”I’m good with God, I love Jesus, but I’m NOT good with church (not necessarily the body, but the church construct). There is not enough space here to get into the reasons why. Since I’ve read George Barna’s book “Revolution” (http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-George-Barna/dp/1414307586) and James Thwaites book “Renegotiating the Church Contract” (http://aspotofblogger.wordpress.com/2006/08/29/t/) The relevance of church has been something that I have become very discouraged with (not because of the books, but my own experiences – the books probably fortified my opinion I guess). Most of our churches feel like shopping malls. Giving us the ability to pick and choose in order to quickly ingest and then dispose of what we take in.
    Frequently my encounters with church have been very much the “attractional” approach which I actually don’t have too much of a problem with – but in my experience the majority of the time the focus is on numbers with an incredibly sharp focus on Christians specifically. Not seekers, not fringe Christians or even non-believers, but regular old Christians. This may seem like an odd statement but the problem for me is that these churches areso focused on programs for Christians they forget about their community. In the past – for myself as well as witnessing it in others – I have seen incredible growth in my faith and my relationship with Christ when involved in a “program” that is focusing on OUTREACH, and ministry to OTHERS. Not INREACH. I would suggest that Christians seeking to grow in their faith would be better served to be involved in activities that are not focused on their church per say but focused on bringing Christ to those not in their church. Church attandence will be a by-product of the relationships being established by Christians with non-believers.
    I do subscribe to Bryn’s point in the end, that a happy co-existence of “attractional” and “missional” may be the most desirable, practical and effective form of church.

    K – that was a bit of a rant… and not entirely focused but is anyone seeing what I’m saying?


  2. wow, what a timely topic. I was just telling a friend last week that i don’t know what is troubling me, I love God, Jesus, praying, but i can’t stand going to church. I find my self wanting for more after a few years of attending the same church… So for the last few months i have been enjoying Bryn’s sermons in the comfort of my own home. What are the stats? Are less people attending church? Cause it seems to me there is a shift away from going to church to a shift to getting out into the world and helping those less fortunate. People want missions… People want to make a difference in the lives of others. My son wants to dig wells in Africa, not go to a ‘rich camp’, His friends are going to build a school in a third world country. It is exciting that people want to be doers of the word, not just listeners. However, there needs to be a balance between communal worship and bible teaching, side by side with outreach within the community. Outreach needs to be done in the name of Jesus so that its not just works of the flesh…
    Yes we need to be spiritually fed within a communal setting (church)and we need to serve others. (missions) It has taken me over an hour to write this as i struggle with finding this balance for myself…

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