Attractional church verses missional church

Life’s been pretty hectic since getting back from the States and the Total Church conference. The following weekend I was leading a marriage retreat and a week after that I was leading our Northern Training Institute residential study week. So I’ve rather lurched from one thing to the next. But I do want to blog some of the things I shared at the Total Church conference.

Attractional church verses missional church

My first talk looked at attractional church verses missional church. Advocates, like myself, of missional church tend to be highly critical of attractional church. Attractional church is a come-to-us mentality in which church revolves around the Sunday meeting. You often find that even people who talk of being more missional want to start by doing something with the Sunday meeting. A truly missional approach emphasises a missional lifestyle and mission in the context of ordinary life in locations where unbelievers feel at home.

But in my talk I suggested it attractional church verses missional church is a false polarization. The problem is in fact that both sides view church as a meeting you attend. Even those who reject attractional church implicitly view church as a meeting. But everything changes if you view church as a community or a network of relationships. Then attractional church is not about putting on a good show, but about a community life that attracts people to God.

Attractional mission in the Bible

This is the missiology of the Old Testament. Israel was to so live under God’s reign expressed through his law that the nations would come to find out about Israel’s God (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Humanity rejects God’s reign, believing Satan’s lie that God’s reign is tyrannical. So God’s people are to demonstrate that God’s reign is a reign of justice, peace, freedom, joy, love and blessing. This is what happened beautifully in the story of Ruth. It reaches it pinnacle in the reign of Solomon when the nations come to marvel of his wisdom and glory. But as Israel rejects her God so, instead of being a light to the nations, she follows the ways of the nation. Isaiah, however, looks forward to a day when Israel will again attract the nations (Isaiah 2:1-5). He promises that God’s Servant will be faithful where Israel was unfaithful, becoming God’s light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). Jesus, of course, is this light: the light of the world, perfectly demonstrating the goodness of God reign.

Attractional mission through church planting

When we come to the church in the NT people often assume a switch of direction from ‘drawing in’ to ‘going out’. But the attractional of the OT in fact continues. God’s new covenant people are to be a light to the world, attracting people to God’s reign (Matthew 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12). What has changed is the centre! The centre is no longer Jerusalem, but hundreds of small communities of light, littered across the world. We simultaneously draw in (through our community life) and move out (through church planting).

I guess what this leaves us with is an exhortation not to throw the attractional baby (a shared life throughout the week that displays the goodness of God’s reign) with the attractional bathwater (a fixation with the Sunday meeting).

And finally a horror story. I was told while in the States of a church that has an annual budget for its Sunday morning meeting – which the staff refer to as ‘the show’ – of $1.5 million (£750,000). I don’t even want to do the maths on how may church planters in the India that would fund – it would be too depressing.

8 thoughts on “Attractional church verses missional church

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  3. Hi Tim
    I am wondering what you make of stuff like Psalm 96 which is sung in earshot of the nations missionally as it was sung and proclaimed in a corporate worship gathering. Likewise 1 Peter 2 seems to suggest a corporate worship gathering where the proclamation of the excellencies of Christ happens. This is not to deny that church is a network of relationships but I’m also keen to not minimise the significance of the community of beleivers assembling for praise and proc as a missional event. This seems to be more than a Sunday fixation. what do you think?

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  5. Tim

    Good to see you posting again. Its so important that we remember that church is something we are not something we attend. Your false polarisation is spot on, I spend so much time explaining that we are not just doing house church, because they assume all we have done is move the Sunday service into our front room.

  6. Hi Shane
    I don’t want to minimise the gathering of believers. This is where the culture is set. (But I don’t necessarily want to load it all into one key meeting each week and I certainly don’t want to invest in making it a good performance).

    I’m surprised, though, that you assume declaring the excellencies of God in 1 Peter 2 refers to a corporate gathering. Honestly that had never occurred to me. I wonder if you might be reading it through the lens of your church practice!? I have always assumed it referred to evangelism. Isn’t that exactly what we do in evangelism: extol the glory of our God? And this is the context. Peter is alluding heavily to Exodus 19 where Israel is commissioned to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priest. In other words, they to be a distinctive nation among the nations that makes God known (Deut 4:5-8). They are to be a kingdom of priests who (just as the priests did within Israel) declare God’s word and bring the nation to the means of atonement. This is also how Peter develops the idea in verses 11-12 – with Christians living such good lives among the world that they see our good deeds and give glory to God. Then in the rest of chapter 2 he works out what this means in terms of relation to the state and to masters. The section is not about what the church does when it gathers, but the church in relation to the world around it.

  7. Thanks for your post, Tim. It is really easy for us to read our specific cultural understanding of “church” into the text, and I appreciate how you are attempting to understand these passages in their original context and motivate the missional calling of the church.

  8. Excellent thoughts!

    I think balance is just one of those fundamental disciplines of doctrine and theology and we need a great deal of wisdom to find the right balance in this regard. The church should grow up past this “pendulum theology” where we swing back from the one extreme to the next. In order to be most effective at reaching the lost we need balance and maturity and lots of passion!

    Your last comment about the church with $1.5 budget for their “show” is really heart breaking! I want to say something about how it makes me feel but I feel I would just be judging from a distance – But its really sad!

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