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Missional or attractional?

by on June 30, 2010

What approach are we going to take to reaching Canterbury? I recently wrote about the power of saying ‘Hi’. I didn’t really explain the assumptions behind that approach.

The more basic question is: should we be inviting the community in, or should we be going out to where they are? Where is the best place for evangelism to happen? Should the church rely on an attractional model, or a ‘missional’ one – going?

By and large our churches rely on attraction. If we make our services good enough, and if we are diligent at inviting, people will come and some will stay. As Andrew Nixon from Connect09 pointed out recently, that approach hasn’t been working well for us. It underestimates the divide between society and church. Church is just not somewhere that most Australians want to go. I heard of a churchplant team in Sydney that put most of their energy into creating the right service, and leafletting the area to let them know about it. ‘The area’ stayed away in droves.

Seems to me it doesn’t matter how good we make our services, most people just won’t come. If your priority is church growth and you reckon there’s some residual sympathy for the church in your suburb, then it might make sense to try to squeeze the last bit out of this, you might even grow if you do it well. But there are two problems:

1. It won’t work for long. The number of people with that sympathy seems to be shrinking by the year. This is not a renewable resource.

2. It doesn’t give the rest of the community a chance. Even though your hypothetical church might be growing, most of the people in your area will remain unreached. The attractional model is not missional. The more alienated from Christ people are, the less likely you are to reach them.

On the other hand, if you just do mission, and you’re always ‘going out’, your witness is very limited. You’re expecting people to come to Christ without having ever experienced Spirit-filled Christian community, without having heard the gospel proclaimed amongst the people of God in the power of the Spirit. You’re wanting them to put their trust in Christ without having seen what he can do (create a new unified humanity). You’re hoping people will commit to joining something – the local Christian church – before they’ve seen it. How likely is that?

Even if they do come to some sort of Christian faith, it will likely be highly individualistic in orientation. Not cool.

What’s the solution then? How should we go about reaching Canterbury for Jesus?

Would it sound too obvious if I suggested doing both? Both go out to where people are, and have an attractive, accessible Christian community that people can approach as they feel ready to.

That’s our plan. We’re going to need to do a lot of going out – every week having meaningful contact with the local people – before we can expect them to come in. Not going out to preach – going out to befriend and to serve and show love. I reckon we need to belong to them before we can ask them to belong to us. Eventually they will be so intrigued by these strange Christians who do stuff for people all over the place, no strings attached; eventually they will trust us so much – that they will be ready to come along and ‘meet the family’.

And by that stage they might even be ready to hear the gospel proclaimed. And what they hear will make sense, because they see it in concrete form all around them – the renewed people of God; and because they’ve been experiencing it for a long time from the believers who went out to them in love.

So the vision is to plant a church that will be attractional through being missional.

This is a costly way to grow the church. It means investing heavily in people, with no guarantee of a payoff at the end. It means disciplining ourselves not to do ‘driveby’s’, firing the gospel at strangers and thinking we’ve done our duty. It means being patient, and praying long and hard for each person. But it might just be effective, where most of the things we are trying these days are not. I admit, though, that this approach is demanding. Maybe it’s too hard. I hope not.

We’re going to try it.

From → General

  1. Sophie Febery permalink

    Inspiring post Jonathan! Really helpful for where I’m at in building relationships here in Methven. It’s hard to know where to invest most time – in relationships with outsiders or with church people? It’s good to read what you say and realise both are important. It kind of reminds me of what I heard at the Total Church seminar a couple of years ago (they have a book too which I never made it through – Steve Timmis and Tim Chester I think).

  2. There is another possibility – taking the christian community to people. If we go out and meet with people in a group of at least a couple of people, if we try dinners and BBQs and coffee shop get-togethers, etc, then we are taking the community out. It may not show every aspect of the community, but it will be some. Perhaps we can do some useful community things into which we can invite others to join us, and they will see other, serving, aspects of our community. I’m sure there are many such ideas.

  3. Nice. I like it.

    A related idea is to do things to make the church property feel like a friendly community space. Run festival days, cultural days (eg ‘Lebanese day’) BBQs, establish a community vege garden, play groups etc. People can get used to having us around, see us doing normal stuff with each other and with them.

  4. Belinda permalink

    Hi Jonathan and others,
    Came here after reading about this in Eternity magazine. Really excited and encouraged to read about your plans. Look forward to hearing how God uses your vision and work!

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