The Attractional Church

Last weekend, my former church hosted a Doctor of Clinical Psychology (not shown on the left) who is an “internationally recognised … expert consultant in post-traumatic stress” who has ministered to “tens-of-thousands of victims of war, sexual exploitation and natural disasters throughout the world”. A very compelling blurb with a winsome color photo covered the postcard. Everyone was encouraged to bring their friends and invite their families. The building was full (according to my wife) and it sounded like everyone who went enjoyed themselves.

A couple of years ago, I hosted Brother Yuen, author of The Heavenly Man, a pastor who was incarcerated and tortured by the chinese government for his faith. An inspiring individual and a compelling book, made him widely known and we had that much interest, we packed the building twice over.

On any given week at church there will be events, services and programs in the building drawing groups from anywhere from a dozen, to hundreds. Guest speakers, vibrant sunday services, children’s programs, feeding the poor programs, youth events, rocking music, thought provoking video, good food, comfortable seats, all make for a very attractive church. It’s the attractional church model through and through. The idea is to have a fantastic building, and host fantastic (the word awesome is used liberally) events, using the best speaking, video and music available and then invite as many people as you can to come and receive it. It’s not unlike Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams idea; “If you build it, they will come”.

I would have to say, that the attractional model has been around since Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek pioneered it back in 1975, which means it’s had a pretty good run, and continues to enjoy good successes in many places. I would also say, I think it has had enough iterations and permutations (or maybe just mutations) to have pretty much reached its full potential. It’s a cow that has been thoroughly milked. I have nothing against the attractional model. I for one, absolutely love big meetings and rockin music that you can feel. But I just don’t think it can be improved on anymore.

“So what?” you ask?

Well, it’s just that if we put it under the microscope and look at how effective it is at A) reaching our communities with the gospel and B) making disciples of those who are involved, it’s fairly limited. For one thing, it’s only done really well in a handful of places and the rest are wannabe’s trying to recreate the few successes that get so much coverage. I’ve seen terrible examples of churches trying on the attractional model in such a cringeworthy way that you hope to God there are no non-christians present.

The attractional model, is actually much harder to pull off than you think. I met a man called April at our church once. I was glad he came to tell you the truth, but unfortunately he didn’t stick. April is a cross dresser and an extremely bad one at that. When you looked up close, the makeup failed to cover the whiskers, the clothes were ill fitting and unsuitable, the hair ragged. It goes to show that it’s a lot harder for a man to look like a woman than you would at first think. And it’s a lot harder for a church to attract the world than we are led to believe by watching Hillsong DVD’s.

Could we maybe call it a day at trying to push the attractional model’s envelope any further and possibly think about some other paradigms?

The Attractional Church Part II


8 Responses

  1. I don’t care much for the label ‘attractional model’ though I accept why one would apply it. In my view, a model of some kind is inevitable. However, the issue for ‘wannabe’ attractional churches is the superficiality of their process. Event-driven churches are high demand low return type churches. Unless their is a strategic process that connects the corporate response to the Gospel with the personal response of believers to the call of the Gospel, it will fail! Yes, buildings will be full occasionally, people will leave feeling warm & fuzzy, but actual additions to the community of faith and authenic discipleship won’t occur! I’m not critical of the motivation of those that pursue an ‘attractional model’ (sic) – I am critical of those that assume that events on their own will build the church. They won’t – its much more complex than that! The end game must be authentic discipleship – if we’re not achieving that why are we doing this?

    • Isn’t attraction to Christ the work of the Holy Spirit, I can’t see it as our (church) role at all. Discipleship isn’t the end game, its the whole game, the church is to do, to act, not to attract. If we do and we profess our faith in however simple and stumbling a manner the Holy Spirit will attract, genuinely attract people to follow Jesus in discipleship.

  2. One’s particular theological pre-suppositions colour how one’s definitions of terms. We may discuss the topic at hand endlessly but never come to a mutual understanding due to the meaning of terms. I’m not sure that’s helpful.
    However a few thoughts: “a lights set on a hill” appears to be an attractional notion…maybe. Paul’s encouragement to thoughtful & sensitve conversation with non-believers would appear attractional….
    “endgame” – whole game – its about how you define it.
    In my mind ‘endgame’ is about ultimate outcome – ie that’s the goal of the whole game(!)

    The point I think I failed to communicate – is the functional linkage, or more accurately, the failure of a functional linkage between the church as a corporate entity and the church as an individual…

    If I understand it – the Spirit’s work is salvic – the church’s role is witness – to use a fishing analogy – no bait – no attraction – no attraction – no catch.

  3. Reddirt, I agree that the term “attractional model” is ambiguous after reading some comments here. I chose that over “event” or “program driven”, because events could be missional and programs could be those run by the Salvation Army which aren’t attractional. I’ve used the term to describe the “building centred – invite your friends to get saved – attend more meetings and you’ll grow” idea most common in our sphere.

    I also agree that discipleship just doesn’t happen in this model. Hybels proved that with his REVEAL study. Attendance has no correlation to spiritual growth.

    Simon has a good point, and I think you’ve followed it up. As we follow Christ WE personally and as a community become attractive. The idea of the church being a light on a hill is the church-the-people.

    The current model outsources our personal attractiveness to buildings, music, video, drama, art, carpets, lounges, websites, lights, services, and food. We spend all our energy and money on making these THINGS attractive, when as followers of Christ, I’d hazard a guess that we aren’t terribly attractive at all.

    I don’t hear of too many non-christians coming to us and saying “I’ll have what you’re having” as Zechariah 8:23 suggests.

  4. Here’s the thing: IF non-believers aren’t saying “I’ll have what your’e having” we’ve completely missed it!
    However, I’m not prepared to divorce effort to be attractive from the core of attractiveness – a tranformed life! If we get mesmerised by the trappings of attractiveness yet lack the core of Christ-likeness we’ve lost the plot. Its too easy to say ‘the church is superficial’ – it probably is – but what am I doing about ‘loving people because i can?’

  5. When a church looks like a shopping mall I think the church is trying too hard. Sure the outside might be all glamorous and pretty, but if there is no solid teaching going on in the inside of the building then I wonder if it’s just there mainly for show? What an important blog post. 🙂

  6. hey rainbows, not sure that solid teaching is the answer, but I am sure that something solid needs to be taking place for sure… and I guess if pushed, I’d say that it would have to be a solid connection to God that needs to be fostered.

  7. […] The Attractional Church Part I […]

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