missional vs attractional: further exploration

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

Last Sunday, I introduced three fellow bloggers who have also turned out to be dynamic conversation partners. Shauna Morgan, Anthony Prince, and Henry Zonio have graciously allowed me to interact with them concerning how missional living and thinking might interface with ministry to children through the local church. They have shared some of their experiences and expertise in their initial posts. Their ideas challenge me and inspire me. While I am sure we do not always agree at specific points, I recognize the growth in my thinking through interacting with them throughout the week here, here, here, and here. I hope the experience has also been encouraging to them. My aim in promoting this multi-blog conversation about mission is to encourage broader conversation in the children’s ministry world. Henry asked me to point our readers to his recent post here, since he will be away for awhile on vacation.

This week I want to focus in on one of the comment streams over at Anthony’s blog. The four of us began wrestling with the difference between attractional vs missional.

I would like to think outloud about how attractional can be infused with a missional mindset so that its strengths are parlayed into a greater effectiveness in embodying and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in my community. I invite my readers to join me in this process. I recall reading the gospels and tracing the narratives of Jesus as he travelled the countryside and the city, teaching, healing the sick, and spending time with all kinds of people, particularly those who were marginalized by the contemporary culture (especially the religious elite). Jesus ate, drank, and enjoyed the company of people. But he also performed stunning miracles. Word got out. People flocked to him from around the region. Is it fair to say that his miracles and teachings attracted people? That is, could this be characterized at some level as an attractional ministry which was infused with a missional mindset?

In my experience, contemporary attractional ministry typically is characterized in this way:

Build a building (or even a temporary tent, for short-term events, or in CM remodel a flatbed truck and do sidewalk sunday school), create a dynamic ministry or event, market it with great savvy and word of mouth, and the people will come. Then when they have come, share the gospel and lead as many as possible to saving faith. Then proceed with follow-up based on collected information, hopefully establishing discipleship relationships in the process.

Missional is usually characterized this way:

Get to know people on their terms in ways that eschew traditional institutional practices. For example, do life with people. What does that mean? Share common meals. Give to each other as each has need. Work and play together. Get to know one another. Put into practice what it means to be reconciled to God and each other. Allow nonbelievers to belong at a deep level before they ever believe, or perhaps even if they never believe. Out of that context opportunities to share faith and theological conversation will emerge within trusting relationships, birthing decisions to follow God in the way of Jesus Christ.

The preceding statement about missional does not imply that any of these things do not happen for people who are in traditional contexts. I can assure you that that they do. The difference is a matter of intentionality. Soon, I will be reviewing The Tangible Kingdom, a fairly recent book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Although I have some serious disagreement with some of their content, I can enthusiastically affirm that– by God’s grace– they have done a marvelous job of developing authentic missional communities in Denver through the ministry of Adullum. Yet, I perceive they avoid most forms of attractional ministry, other than the attraction of being missional. In fact, they carefully screen people to make sure there is deep buy-in before the people become seriously involved. They acknowledge their way of being and doing church does not fit everyone.

I do not see my church being anywhere close to that kind of radical stance concerning their form of missional church. We are a traditional church which has in its midst some very missional-minded people. It is an interesting situation of which I am proud to be a part. And it leaves me with the pressing question. How to interface attraction with a missional mindset? For my part, I plan to continue developing personal relationships with all kinds of people in the community. I also plan to develop strategic events and initiatives with a view toward directly benefitting the community. My hope is to turn the axis of gospel proclamation away from strictly large events which are not based on ongoing relationships and move it to personal relationships in the community with the support of periodic events.

What do you think? Are you doing this in your setting? Please leave a comment if you are….

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3 thoughts on “missional vs attractional: further exploration

  1. Glen,

    I mentioned this over on the commets on Anthony’s blog, I think that some of the hangup with missional and attractional is that how they are defined makes them seem like they are opposites or mutually exclusive of each other. This, in turn, creates friction and conflict when people try to reconcile the two. How I look at it is that missional has to do with ethos and philosophy whereas attractional can be more a mode of ministry. The mistake has been that attractional has many times become the ethos of some churches. I think our church is doing a pretty good job of trying to be a missionally attractional church. It all has to do with an understanding that salvation and atonement and Christ’s birth and ressurrection aren’t just for the sake of an individual being transformed… it’s about mission and seeing God’s Kingdom come HERE as it is in heaven. Now that is not to be confused with amilleniallism, which states that the world will progressively get better until heaven is realized. What I am saying is that to be missional, we need to realize that creation was made right when Jesus died on the cross and was subsequently beat death. We exist in two parallel worlds where the redeemed world and broken world coexist (try and wrap your brain around that one!). It is our job as followers of Christ being restored in God’s image to facilitate the breakthrough of God’s Kindgdom into our reality wherever possible. In other words, we should be about letting people see tastes of heaven all around our world. I know that is somewhat nebulous, but it ends up looking different depending on the context. We need to be about making the world “right” when and where we can… and that has to a lot less with making people follow a moral code and more about bringing love and justice and restoration to the broken places around us.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Henry. N.T. Wright talks about setting the world to rights…. J.R.R. Tolkien and CS Lewis also convey such themes in their writings. I definitely understand and appreciate this line of thinking. I do think, as well, that personal eternal salvation has gotten a bad rap of late in the emergent conversation. I understand the reaction against being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but I think some folks are throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. My next post will explore the reasons why I feel this way. To be clear, I don’t believe you are dismissing personal salvation or leading people to faith decisions, but I know of many who seem to be moving this direction and that concerns me.

  3. Wow… I’ve been out of the loop lately :) With our impending move, it’s been pretty distracting.

    I hear what you are saying. I agree that we can’t throw out personal salvation. Thus why I appreciate people like N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight and others who aren’t so quick to throw out personal evangelism. They are simply trying to expand what all of that means. I’ll have to look for your other post. I’m hoping that as things become more solidified with our move that I will get back to more interactions as well as writing :)

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