Attrational (vs.) Missional

For some reason I’ve read several authors recently, all online blogs, who use the “attractional model” to describe where “the church is now,” and “missional model” to describe where it needs to go.

I’m not sure what the attractional model entails in terms of operative ecclesiology, but it seems to be roughly this: the church is an organization, rooted at a particular physical address, that attracts people into participation and membership through a variety of programs and services that meet their real and/or perceived needs.

On the other hand, the missional model — in terms of operative ecclesiology — seems to be something like this: the church is a community, scattered in a larger community and culture, that demonstrates the gospel/kingdom-life through its words and deeds and invites others to participate and believe.

Now, anyone who is on board with missional theology can see immediate problems with the attractional  definition. The church is a community, not primarily an organization or — worse — a building; the church is sent into the community, and does not exist as a static entity that draws people to it like a magnet; the church is about life in the kingdom of God, not running programs and services. Etc., etc., …

But setting up an either/or, move from this to that, doesn’t make sense of the complex reality of a church community, or what it means to be a missional church.

A missional church is an attractive church. A Christian community is, at some level, an organization and needs organization. Nearly any church that grows and matures at some point becomes tied to or identified with a physical address, simply for practical necessity. The kind of nuture, education, care, and service that a missional church provides will need to take an organized structure and pattern; that structure and pattern may look a lot like a program — especially if it continues beyond its initial iteration of leaders. A community that is demonstrating the gospel in words and deeds will meet people’s needs, and that may be what draws people into the community at first. In other words, a missional church can and will share a lot of features with the attractional church. And looking at this like the missional church replaces the attractional church, and becomes a different “model,” is misleading.

I think it is better to think of it like this: a missional approach reforms and deepens an “attractional” model. Specifically, a missional understanding of the church situates the attractional model in the missio Dei, and makes the sending and witness of the Christian community a core piece of the church’s identity. For instance, as an attractional church becomes missional, it could be that Biblical discipleship becomes more important, daily witness becomes more important, intentional community becomes more important, compassion and care for the other becomes more important, the life of the church in the broader community and away from “campus” becomes more important.

Indeed, this missional reframing will and should change the way the typical “attractional church” operates — it’s language, priorities, budgeting, structure, strategy, values, expectations, vision, you-name-it. But it’s not an either/or, from this to that. It’s a deepening and reforming of what is already there.

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