why are we doing what we’re doing?

sometime back i watched a 19-minute video featuring alan hirsch (it was attached to march issue of “catalyst monthly”) entitled, “post-christendom mission.”  if you haven’t seen it, i encourage you to watch it here.   previously i had only a passing knowledge of hirsch and his background/credentials, but this video has messed me up.  i am rethinking everything i know about ministry.  therefore…

in the next couple of posts i want to revisit a recurring and somewhat tired conversation.  i want to talk about what hirsch alternately calls “the attractional church model” and “the extractional church model.”  another favorite author of mine, reggie mcneal, calls it simply, “the church growth method.” 

my working definition: an amalgamation of everything that has “worked” in the past done as well as we can possibly do them. 

DISCLAIMER #1:  i plan to make a few comments that may irritate some people, but it is absolutely not my intention to attack or criticize anyone.   i am, however, going to point out the futility and misguidedness of some of the methods i see being employed to “grow” the church.

DISCLAIMER #2:  i realize that i open myself to the all-too-familiar criticism, “you’re just angry because your church is small.  you’re taking pot shots at larger churches because you’re resentful of their success.”  god forbid.  i say with paul, “but what does it matter?  the important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, christ is preached.  and because of this i rejoice” (philippians 1:8).  the fact is, our local fellowship is small.  we used to be much bigger than we are now, but for many years i’ve been trying to transform the thinking of the believers that i lead–to get them to think outwardly rather than inwardly.  it’s hard.  but i believe god placed us here for the benefit of our surrounding community, and we are doing the tedious work of planting the gospel here.  for the most part, we (and i am including myself) do not know what “missional” means, but i’m pretty sure we are following god’s direction.

tim stevens and tony morgan used to be on staff together at granger community church.  they co-wrote a book that i own and appreciate called, “simply strategic church growth.”  both men write blogs that i read daily, and i esteem each of them as brothers with much to say to the body of christ.  apparently, both men saw the above-referenced video and both commented on their blogs.  the message they took from the presentation, however, was much different than the one i received.

tony morgan says, “Why does it have to be attractional or missional? I’ve seen lives impacted by both approaches. Why can’t it be attractional and missional?”

 tim stevens says, “Keep doing attractional. It works for 40%. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. I’m interested in finding the AND!”

again, i do not mean to attack anyone personally and i am certainly in no position to question/judge the godly men i’ve mentioned by name.  but i believe that “attractional” and “missional” are mutually exclusive.  in fact, i (as a church leader) will have to choose one or the other.  and i think that is what hirsch was trying to say (more on that tomorrow).

the attractional church model has two markers/objectives that makes it decidedly non-missional: 1.) it’s goal is to get people to come to it, and 2.) it’s ministry centers around the activities at the building on sundays.  now, i realize that attractional churches do outreach, and i understand that they have highly-effective programs going on outside their weekend services.  still, the point of being “attractional” is to attract people (hence the name) to our to our big, high-energy services.

but aren’t we supposed to go?  to infiltrate their culture rather than try to integrate them into our culture (that’s where hirsch uses the term “extractional”).  proponents of the attractional church model say it’s working.  statistics say otherwise.

what say you?  



9 thoughts on “why are we doing what we’re doing?

  1. I use different terms in defining a church model;

    (1) “boundary model”

    (2) “horizon model”

    I will make a “out of comfort zone” statement for many pastors; if you are not leading a horizon model church twenty-five years from now, your church and very possibly Christianity itself could be a marginal part of our culture.

    It is very “easy” for a church to put so much emphasis on the messenger to the extent that much of the message is lost or just not known by church members. Has created a whole generation of Christian-lite church goers and individuals (like myself) look to other venues to nurture our spiritual development.

    We very well may be a witness to the implosion of the largest hieratical organization ever created by humans; the Roman Catholic Church. Why! Basically to many boundaries! Not picking on them in particular, evangelicals have many boundaries to nurturing spirituality also.

  2. I am looking forward to watching the video to see what it has to say. That being said, you mentioned several names that I have had opportunity to be involved with to some small degree.

    I was at Catalyst in 2008 and one of my favorite experiences was listening to Reggie McNeal. I have a couple of his books now.

    I have had some blog ‘dealings’ with Tony Morgan where I had serious questions about a church model that refused children in the worship service. He chose not to address my questions. I don’t mean to belittle him in any way but I stopped referring to his site as it appeared that the focus was more about generating (attracting) responses than entering into beneficial discussions concerning church missiology and function.

    As far as the topic that you have raised, I believe 2 things:

    1. Christ said if He was lifted up that He would draw men unto himself. (Call it attractional)

    2. Christ said Go. (sounds like extractional)

    I believe number 1 is accomplished by effectively carrying out # 2.

    The local gathering of the church as recorded in Acts chapter 2 was for the following things:

    1. Dedication to the apostles teaching (doctrine)
    2. Praying together
    3. Fellowship
    4. Meeting each other’s needs.

    How many of those things do non-christians benefit from on a spiritual level?

    My opinion is that those 4 things equipped the local body to help them present a living Christ through their transformed lives. This is what caused thousands to be attracted to what was going on.

  3. I finally got around to watching the video and came away with the impression that the speaker was saying that we need the attractional church but we also need a new paradigm to work in the areas that the attractional church doesn’t reach.

    As I thought about that, it made me think about home or small groups or smaller satellite campuses that many churches are trying to incorporate today. While these bring some level of the ‘GO’ or ‘extractional’ church mentality to the discussion, they also present their own issues:

    1. The same mentality exists that if we ‘build it they will come’. A church in my area presented this very issue. They have a large central church and many satellite or ‘sphere’ meeting places. I can almost chuck a rock at one of the sphere’s that meets near my home because it is that close. However, they have been there a couple of years now and no one from that sphere has ever been to my house to let me know that they are there or who they are. They just put out a little placard on Sunday mornings and that has been the extent of it. So they have created an extractional model but haven’t changed their methodology from an attractional one. By the way, I visited this sphere on my own accord and enjoyed the teaching there.

    2.It reinforces a centralized governing body with subject outposts. Think of the Roman Catholic church with Rome being the center of the Universe or the Mecca for their believers. While there is good that can come from collaborative efforts, there is also a lot of bad. The leaders of these centralized, over-arching organizations become demi-gods to some degree. Not by their own choosing but via their forced popularity. We continue the call of the Israelites, “Give us a King!”. This can create tension when the centralized body wants to harmonize convictions for the whole organization. If a satellite body doesn’t align with the conviction, contention is created where none should be. An example may be the standings on alcoholic consumption. I personally believe the bible allows license for usage based on the individual’s convictions (It is worth mentioning here that I don’t drink but my choice is not purely based on religious reasons). What happens from this type of practice is denominational isolation along personal convictions instead of doctrine. What happens in large, as described here, can then be seen to happen in small with the home church/small group model.

    3. The satellite small groups are not looked upon as a church body and are not empowered to carry out the duties of a church body. I can’t speak to all of the models that exist for small group structures, but the ones that I have witnessed are still outposts for the larger collective that is located elsewhere. Instead of empowering the small group to be effective in their community, the larger collective requires resources from the smaller groups to support the missions of the centralized gathering. I am not saying that there should not be collaboration but it should be more equitable towards the small group in order for it to be effective. Case in point, monies that are collected by the small groups, does most of it stay with the small group in order to further the impact in that community or does most of it end up back at the centralized body? How about volunteer service hours – do the satellite posts spend time serving their community or are they asked to support the efforts of the centralized gathering? I guess the question here is how autonomous can the small group/outpost be and does their level of autonomy affect their success?

    I don’t know if I have confused the issue or helped to cast some light on it but this is what I took from watching the video.

    • thanks for your thoughtful comments, tony…i always appreciate your insight.

      the part of hirsch’s prepentation that haunts me (as a church leader) is where he says, “it’s like if we were digging a hole and needed a hole over there…our response is to dig our hole deeper.” the attractional church model is the hole and no one knows/has ever seen the “hole over there.”

      it feels to me like god is calling us to raise up some young men and women (without established patterns and pre-conceived notions) who have the capacity to think in ways we are incapable of. perhaps they can find a way to dig a “hole over there” and make inroads into reaching the unreachable sixty percent.

  4. Pingback: Organizational Church – Here to Stay? « 30 Second Rule

  5. randy, i’m confused. what is the “extractional” model you guys are referring to? because to me that sounds like an attractional church who pulls people out of their cultural context, so that they can become a member of the church. “extracting” them from their family of origin, their neighborhood associations, their culture, background, hobbies, etc.

    which, by the way, is one way we stifle kingdom growth. because we pull people out of the communities they ought to be reaching.

    i can’t watch the video because of our internet situation here in tanzania.

    • according to hirsch, that’s precisely what it means. we reach across cultural barriers (language, traditions, etc), bring people into the church, and immediately socialize them into our “culture.” they now have christian friends and run in christian circles. we have effectively eliminated a contact point into that culture we are supposedly trying to reach.

      apparently, hirsch is responsible for coining the term “attractional model.” on the video, he says, “it would have been more accurate for me to use the term ‘extractional’ rather than ‘attractional.’ we don’t know how to minister cross-culturally.”

      • yeah, i like the term “extractional.” i’ve had lots of conversations about the way we do just that, but i’ve never had a nifty name to use. i’m sure there are lots of reasons we do it, the biggest one probably simply that “attractional” models of evangelism are the default setting, and have rarely been challenged.

        two more of the many reasons we prefer to extract people from their culture are:

        – it keeps our church the same. we don’t want some melting pot -type mix of cultures. although we started the church as white, upper-middle class suburbanites, we may reach out to other groups and bring them into our churches. but we’re for sure going to expect them to act like us.

        – we’re too concerned with our own congregation’s numbers. we don’t care about gospel growth or kingdom growth. we just want more people in our seats.

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