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.