Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Attractional vs. Missional

On my sabbatical I am wrestling through some philosophical issues regarding how Biblical principles and our present cultural context should influence our Worship and Arts Ministry in the years to come. In this post I would like to start by summarizing some of my observations on some of the fundamental shifts we are seeing in today’s churches (specifically in the United States). Volumes have been written on the specific issue I am discussing in this post, so if you think my thoughts are a gross simplification, you are right. Please join in the conversation if you have any comments or questions that could contribute to the issues within this post.

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In recent decades the most popular evangelism model for church growth has been the attractional model. I remember several years ago at the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels stood on the stage and drew a large funnel on a flip chart explaining that the seeker driven strategy gets unchurched people into the funnel (the seeker service) and then channels them from there into different levels of experience and involvement within the church community. At some point in the process these people come to faith in Christ and begin experiencing growth through involvement in the mid-week worship services, serving in ministry, attending small groups, etc... This is an extremely simplified glimpse at the attractional model; however, it gives an understanding of what many evangelical churches have embraced in some form as a primary evangelistic strategy.

The emerging church claims that effective evangelism for our postmodern culture is no longer attractional. They invert the attractional funnel, transforming evangelism strategy from a come-and-see (attractional) to a go-and-tell (missional). To effectively become missional, emergents tell us we must become incarnational. In the same way as Christ took on flesh in the incarnation so that he could identify with humanity and become the sacrificial lamb, we are to take on the culture of those we are trying to reach in order to win their trust and thus have a voice in sharing the gospel with them.

One reason this missional strategy may be more effective today is because, with the proliferation of information (via the internet, technology, etc…), cultural trends are more fragmented and morph at a higher rate of speed. This fragmentation and morphing effect is causing relevancy based attractional models to struggle because there is no longer an identifiable “style” that can effectively reach an entire demographic. On the flip side, if John is missional with his classmates, and Meghan is missional with her fellow employees, and Andrew is missional with his motocycle club, then these Christians are effectively reaching people within the context of their individual cultures (e.g. being incarnational in their evangelism).

So what does this mean for a Worship and Arts ministry in the local church? Well, quite honestly, I am trying to figure this out. One thing for sure, as my Senior Pastor recently shared with me, our approach to evangelism should not be “either/or” but “both/and.” I do agree with his statement. If our only strategy for evangelism is missional, we risk discounting the Biblical model of preaching as a means of grace for the winning of the lost. In the same regard, if we primarily rely on an attractional evangelism strategy, our churches may continue the trend of becoming less and less effective at reaching new generations.


First Theology said...

Good thoughts... I think the pendulum always swings one way or the other. With some in the missional camp it's swung completely away from any "church programming" (what you call attractional). I agree with you and see that as an overly-simplistic/reductionistic approach - and I tend to dislike reductionism as you probably noticed :)

I think another weakness of the seeker model is that they call people to something that is inherently non-offensive - felt-need preaching and flashy programming - but it seems this is often inadequate to substantially "deliver the goods" which are inherently offensive - the gospel/our theology (1 Cor. 1:18, 21) - see my response on my blog to the Emerging Taxonomy comments. I think this weakness tends to make some in the missional camp really shy away from any programmed efforts to attract lost people (they see that as Pelagian/semi-Pelagian - thinking humanity is essentially good or neutral). Instead most missional folks fall back on theological preaching (typically Calvinistic) that hits ya in the face. That is certainly more in line with my style, but I'd put that in the category of style not theology. Still the real difficulty is sorting out those categories, style v. theology, and answering the question: Are there certain styles/approaches that limit what we can effectively communicate theologically? I wonder if that is the real rub between seeker v. missional? [Certainly another point of contention is the fact that many in the missional, typically 30s and younger, seem very turned off by marketed methods – they seem disingenuous to many of us.]

scooterpastor said...

Sorry Nate. You posted 4 times and as I was cleaning out the duplicates, I accidentally took all your posts off. Below is your comment:

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Subject: [Deo Gloria] 7/18/2006 03:48:26 PM
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The things I mention in the following I hope are helpful. The attractional model allows people the invite card to an event. In someways it can set the bar so low in what it means to follow Jesus. If you are a good american evangelical Christian living among the lost it usually means:
I don't get involved in the bad things that they are doing (gambling, drinking, sleeping around), but neither do I know how to talk to them about Jesus. I'll invite them this year to our Christmas and Easter deal so hopefully they come...and they know I go to a Bible study but this is the length of my involvement and interaction.
I also think the attractional model is all ready how most large churches are set up. Yes we need "both and" but we don't need to speak to the attractional. We are all ready functioning that way. It's like trying to tell a person that is going through the Drive Thru at Hardees how important Drive Thrus are and how they can be used.

I think as a Pastor, whether it be a worship pastor or another is it is important to model and talk about the various encounters you have among the lost.

scooterpastor said...

Josh, one of my greatest concerns with this issue is the apparent turn-off that is happening for new generations in today’s Evangelical worship services. The marketing, slick-factor, frilly artistic media, smiling happy faces, etc… seems to communicate in-authenticity to new generations. This needs to be addressed with urgency. The good news is that this problem is driving churches to question methodology and awakening a passion for Biblically centered worship.

Nate, I think it is fair to assert that the pendulum needs to swing the other way. I am a bit cautious about asserting that because we are under an attractional mindset, we should only speak to the missional. I would feel more comfortable with a strategy that embraces all Biblically sanctioned forms by which the gospel should go forth. I would argue that the preaching of the Word in a church service is a sanctioned Biblical means by which many will be saved. We cannot be afraid to embrace the worship gathering as a key component in fulfilling the gospel mission. On the other hand, I totally agree that the weaknesses of the attractional model have rendered a large percentage of Christians totally ineffective at life-on-life evangelism. This needs to be addressed and will require a dedicated emphasis on the church becoming more missional in its strategy.

Julie said...

I've read alot on both sides as I've grappled with change this year... from Sally Morgenthaler's "Worship Evangelism" and Webber's "Ancient Future Evangelism" to the book by Niel Cole on which our small group model is based, and "Fuel and the Flame". Bottom line is, there is biblical support for both attractional and missional models. So I don't think we have the right to only preach or live on one side of things or the other, because both are in the book.

The cultural climate in the NT was not that different from today in alot of ways... they still dealt false teachers, people picking and choosing what they liked from different religions to create their own and people bowing down to idols (no, we don't have Baal, but we do have $$, power, position, sexual immorality, etc) Components of the attractional model were in place pretty early on in Church history. Webber talked about the proccess for membership established very early on that involved a period of teaching before baptism, like the proccess of gradual involvement you described for Willow.

I think authenticity in attractional models is a big issue... but really, is it so much about style or content?

Quote from Pop Christianity and Pop Culture on Mars Hill by Russell Moore from Southern's Seminary's Spring 2006 issue... "Often at the root of so much of Christian "engagement" with pop culture lies and embarassment about the oddity of the Gospel. People will not resonate with this strange biblical world of talking snakes, parting seas, floating axe-heads, virgin conceptions and empty graves. It is easier to meet them where they are at... ...let us not kid ourselves. We connect with sinners in the same way Christians always have - by telling and awfully freakish-sounding story about a man who was dead, and is not anymore, but who we will all meet face-to-face in judgement."

How can Worship Arts ministries be both missional and attractional? Hmmm... well, music, dance, drama, art, creative writing, all can happen both inside and outside of the church walls to the glory of God, "worship art" can be taken into the community. Vision casting and encouragement for that could happen, and it seems like our specific church body has an awful lot of talented artsy people who could be equipped and regularly engaged to use thier talents in both places.

Just my $.02

scooterpastor said...

Julie. I am very interested in exploring what role the arts have in both evangelistic expressions. Certainly the nooma videos are an interesting combination of preaching and media that are very postmodern and effective in an attractional sense. Anyhow... good thoughts worthy of more discussion.

scooterpastor said...

John, that story was almost too painful to read. How tragic and revealing. The sentiment of your comment is a great reminder. It is too easy to fortress ourselves as believers and forget the purpose of “going” that Christ left us with in the great commission (Mt 28:18-20). I was deeply convicted by Nate’s comment on my post on “Missional vs. Attractional” which said “I think as a Pastor, whether it be a worship pastor or another is it is important to model and talk about the various encounters you have among the lost.”
Of course, his point being that I of all people should be in the lives of the lost and broken and should be talking about it every chance I get. I mean how can we as leaders preach being missional if we aren’t living missionally!!!!

Of course, we must “keep a close watch” on the doctrinal issues of faith in our teaching (1 Tim 4:16), but remember that Paul’s closing statement in this passage was to “persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Whether it be through seeker movements, missional movements, or just “love the lost” movements we need to merge our passion to “teach right doctrine” with “reaching the lost” so that we can faithfully fulfill what Christ taught us about God in John 4, namely God is seeking worshipers (new believers) who will worship Him in spirit and in truth!