Why “Attractional” Undermines the Mission of God

The “Attractional Model” of church ministry does evangelism and outreach for the sake of attracting people into the church doors, where they can hear the gospel and get plugged into the church body, assimilated into the community of faith.

The “Missional Model” of church ministry sees mission as the mode of operation for Christianity. Mission means being sent. This has been the God’s model dating all the way back to Abraham, through Moses, into Jesus, and is now the model for us in our cultural contexts. God calls individuals and communities to love him and to obey his governance over all things, and then sends these individuals and communities to proclaim this Kingdom of God.

forgotten-ways-by-alan-hirschBut there’s a problem, and Alan Hirsch identifies it:

“The Christendom template tends to bolt down this missional impulse by substituting it with an attractional one. So while the local church genuinely does forms of evangelism and outreach, because it measures effectiveness through numerical growth, better programming, and increase of plant and resources, it requires the attractional impulse to support it. The exchange is subtle but profound, and the net effect is to unwittingly block the outward-bound movement that is built into the gospel. Instead of being sown in the wind, the seeds are put into ecclesial storehouses, thus effectively extinguishing the purpose they were made for.”

–Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 130

Many new North American church movements are ministering through the paradigm of this missional impulse. But is there a way to help established churches and denominations morph into more missional communities? Or is the attractional impulse simply too strong?


Andy C said...

Great question. I'm working in an established church context that has attractional trappings, yet a heart for building missional small groups. The tension here is that some people are feeling like a "bait and switch" is occurring.

Their entry into the worshiping community is through slick production and mass media, but as soon as they want something "deeper" we start requiring that they reprioritize their time, relationships, and comfort around involvement in "sent" small groups.

Anonymous said...

Hirsch's book is full of important questions for us in today's Western church. I believe he sometimes overstates his case against the established church, but you get at the core of the matter here. How do we maintain a missional identity while all the while existing as an institution? It is a constant tension we are to live in the midst of. The early church had an "institutional component" - local elders/deacons/pastors/etc. and yet lived out a constant "sent-ness" that has been largely abandoned today.

What does the local congregation look like in today's transient, global communities? To me this is not addressed by Hirsch. I appreciate the constant calls for neighborhood presence and locality - but the reality is that people today live in one part of town, shop for groceries in another, and go to church in a third . . . so how are we "sent" into those areas?