Attractional or Missional?
Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The one thing that keeps me up at night…well, ok, there is more than one thing, but the major thing that keeps me up at night is the challenge of the church to blend attractional and missional communities together.
Every single pastor I have ever met has fallen into one of two camps, missional or attractional.
I, myself, call myself a missional leader. The church I attend is an attractional church.
Neither one is wrong. Neither one, alone, is right. Both need to be part of the program for a Biblically-based church to exist.
There are a LOT of people out there who hate the mega-church movement. Once a church gets above 400, people start complaining that it is getting too big or growing too much. And there are valid concerns over many mega-churches out there. Everything from scam artists trying to get rich from the pulpit to simply bad theology fills the airwaves every Sunday morning. Many of those churches boast tens of thousands of attenders, all who give significantly to the “ministry.”
But those aren’t the churches I am talking about.
When I think of attractional churches, I think of Thomas Road in Lynchburg, VA or Hillsong Church around the world. These are churches that believe there needs to be something to attract people to them. It could be the music or the preaching or kid’s ministry or even the ice cream socials and hot dogs after service.
Then there are the missional churches. Those are the ones that believe that it doesn’t matter whether you have 35 or 3500, we are to make God’s mission our mission and we strive to create disciples no matter what. Typically, missional churches get stuck at small numbers. I have rarely seen a missional church very large, usually under 400. But these are the churches that are in the communities and are known for doing things that improve the communities that they are in.
The two churches seem like they are worlds apart in how they do church. And, in some ways, they are. The attractional church focuses on Sunday, the one day of the week where everything must come together to give God all the glory and hopefully see people make a decision for Christ. The missional church focuses on the other 6 days of the week, many times neglecting Sunday along the way, to make sure that life is being done with everyone in the church and community.
Acts 2:41 – So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.
But if we look at Scripture, we find that the first century church was both missional and attractional.
I am clearly more missional than attractional in mentality, but that wasn’t always the case. There were days that I would gauge the success of our church by the people who filled the pews. And there still are days that I do that, depending on what we are doing as a church.
Atrractional churches, many claim, are not biblical. But that is clearly not the case. Why wouldn’t Jesus care about basic numbers? There is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to numbers (called Numbers). And in Luke 15, Jesus is so in touch with all of his people that He knows when even one is missing.
Since the days of the Old Testament, God has been in the business of attracting people to Him. Exodus 19:5-6 talks about the city on a hill that the Gentiles would come toward. Isaiah 2:2 describes that Gentiles would be attracted to God’s Jerusalem to worship when they saw God’s glory coming from His people.
1 Kings 10:9 – Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”
1 Kings 10:5-9 is probably the best example of this with Queen Sheba becoming overwhelmed and praising God after traveling miles just because she was attracted to the holy place to worship. Even the Jewish temple was constructed for all nations. In Isaiah 56:7 tells us that the temple was constructed as a “house of prayer for all nations.”
Even in the New Testament, where we like to think that everything is about “go and tell,” we still see a lot of “come and see.” Jesus again speaks about the city on a hill that does good works that is seen by all. And in 1 Peter, the author quotes Exodus and talks about us living in such a way that others would COME to us and ask a reason for our faith. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul explains that unbelievers will come and have their hearts laid bare and they will fall down and worship God.
Even the creator of the missional movement, Leslie Newbigin, said that the book of Acts is basically a bunch of people gathering to ask believers, “Can you explain Christianity?” and then someone answering that question for them. That is attractional. People come, see, stay, ask, and learn.
Every time we see Jesus He was attracting large crowds of people to Him. He did this because of how He and His disciples lived out their lives in the community. Acts 2:42-47 says that the unbelievers were amazed even at how they spoke. It wasn’t only the lifestyle they lived, but the way they worshiped.
Missional churches view the Gospel as “go and tell.” The building is simply there to provide a common place for believers to come and get recharged before heading back out into the world to go on mission.
In the Old Testament, where the Jewish people were to be set apart so that others would come and see the glory of God through them, we see a lot of examples where the Old Testament people go on mission. Obadiah and Nahum are books written about living life on mission. And even Jonah, who fell into adversity for trying to hide and lie to God after God commanded him to go on mission.
When the Jews were sent into exile, prophets such as Daniel and Jeremiah were used to help the Israelites understand that they were to testify to God’s grace as they were in exile. Daniel even uses his role in the government of Babylon to help the king understand the God alone can save.
Peter explains the idea of exile even more in the New Testament and describes it as the primary identity of the church today. Even though Peter talks about the attraction of Jesus and the church, he also goes on to say that we are to give an answer to EVERYONE about the reasons for the hope we have.
And, of course, there is no greater missional verse than that of the Great Commission. We are to GO and MAKE disciples of all the nations.
Acts 2:17 – “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Acts 2:17 tells us that the Spirit of God was poured out on all and that even our sons and daughters would prophesy. Imagine being a Jew hearing that! Prophecy was relegated to a few select people in Old Testament times. But now to hear that this was available to ALL?!? That was a rock-your-world moment!
In the New Testament, we see that the ministry moves away from a few leaders who are specialized in certain ways to the average Joe. Ordinary people are tasked with carrying out the mission of the church, not only the leaders. Of the 40 miracles that happen in the Book of Acts, 39 of them take place OUTSIDE the church. This tells me that the main place God wants people to see His glory is outside the church.
When you ask the average Christian when they felt closest to God, they will probably describe a moment in the worship music that they were driven to tears or that one sermon where they felt convicted. While those are great moments for sure, the fact remains that most of what God wants to do is going to be done outside the church by ordinary people, not inside the church by specialized leaders.
The one place you didn’t see the apostles a lot in the Book of Acts was in the church. Just like Jesus, the apostles took the message outside the “4 walls” to the everyday people.
And this is our calling. To know Jesus is to be sent by Jesus.