Before Christmas, the New Year, before getting bombarded by the relentless flu, and before my good friend's incredibly devastating loss of his son, I had begun a series of 3 posts on some common buzz words within the church: community, missional, and relevant. I posted my take on the difference between Community versus Commonality here. Continuing in this series, let me offer my thoughts on the difference between missional and attractional.
It might seem pretty obvious what "attractional" means. In our consumeristic culture, it's all about getting more business and customers, and oftentimes, the church seems to fall into step with similar practices. Just like brand allegiance has grown less and less, so have people's allegiance to the local body of which they are part. It seems to be about the latest and greatest, the biggest and the best. Who offers the best programs for my kids and my family? What will we get out of it when we gather on Sunday morning? Can I hear good music, a good message, and feel blessed and ready to face the week ahead after spending my one hour in church on Sunday morning?
If people are easily attracted to churches, they will be just as easily unattracted to churches. "Brand loyalty" is something that is becoming less and less prevalent as people who fall into the consumer mindset will easily abandon their practices when they find something better. Joshua Harris wrote an informative and thought-provoking book a few years back called "Stop Dating the Church." While I don't agree with everything he says, he articulates well the shift that has taken place within our churches from commitment to consumerism.
Not only will some people hop around from church to church to find everything that they are looking for, but in this digital society, it seems perfectly legitimate for us to "have church" while sitting in front of our computer and watching someone hundreds or thousands of miles away. This is missing the point as to why we gather. Just as the author of Hebrews wrote that we shouldn't forsake assembling or gathering together, the fellowship and community formed when we do gather is an important factor.
The word missional has become somewhat of a buzzword in Christian circles. It seems that we sometimes throw it around without a good definition or description of what it means. Ironically, the idea of being missional is a concept that we have trained foreign missionaries in for years. They are trained to exegete the culture and to understand the language that is used among the people to whom they minister. They understand that they need not wait for people to come to them but that instead, they need to go be among people.
The idea of missionality seemed to get lost during the time in our culture when people still maintained some type of respect and appreciation for religion. Back then, it was easy to just invite people to come to church and expect that they might show up. Many embrace what I call a "Field of Dreams" mentality, "If you build it, they will come." Sadly, many churches never moved past that mindset.
The idea of being missional is an intentional awareness of the places that we go, the people we meet, and the culture that surrounds us. It's about being the hands and feet of Jesus, not by thumping people over the head with the Bible and playing Holy Spirit to them, but by serving them and seeking opportunities to share as to why that service is important.
Evangelism seems to have become a four-letter word among some in the church. I am probably among them. Unfortunately, evangelism has come to mean standing on a street corner, handing out tracts. But the origin of the word "evangelism" is from the Greek word "euangelion" which means, "Gospel or Good News." Evangelism is sharing God's story in our lives, not beating people over the head with the Bible and trying to "seal the deal" to get them to pray a prayer.
When we live intentionally missional lives, we don't simply surround ourselves with people who think, talk, and believe what we believe. In fact, if those are the people that we are spending significant time with, we need a change. I have felt this tension for years now. It's ironic that one whose profession is to minister to people and reach people for Christ ends up being surrounded by so many Christians. If we look at who Jesus was surrounded by, it was more often than not the ones who needed to hear the "euangelion."
I have seen how difficult it is to make this change among the culture of a church and to change within myself. It is not something that happens overnight. It is something that needs to be modeled and lived out in order for it to really took root within people. Like most things though, it has to start small. Too much, too fast can just leave to frustration and cause people to want to give up. My experience of late has been to take advantage of opportunities that God puts before me, feeling a sense of urgency and yet not allowing that urgency to play "Holy Spirit" within me.
We can continue to be attractional in the way that we do church and we will probably be mostly "successful" from a worldly perspective. But we shouldn't be surprised when something else comes along that draws people away. If we seek to be missional, to reach people where they are with a message of hope and Good News, we can be a church who grows and trains disciples. It won't happen overnight, but we can start with one person at a time.