In the first post in this series, I defined attractional and incarnational ministry, and listed several key verses in support of an incarnational approach to evangelism. In this post, I want to list other motivations for choosing this approach. So my thoughts will follow shortly, in no particular order, and with much overlap I’m sure. But first, disclaimers. These are merely my thoughts and opinions — and some of them very well may be wrong; please let me know if that is indeed the case. I am in search of truth, as are all of you.
I should also preface by explaining that I frequently make statements like “lends itself to,” “often requires,” and “sometimes.” This is because I know that not all of these statements are true of each and every church with an attractional strategy. I also understand that just because a method “lends itself” to a certain less-than-good result, this bad outcome is neither an absolute nor necessary end; nor would this “lending” be reason enough to label a particular system as deficient. To be clear, I am attempting to be objective, however, I do fully intend to make a case for incarnational ministry over its alternative, attractional ministry.
My Thoughts on Attractional vs. Incarnational Ministry
- One major concern I have is how we view our assemblies (usually Sundays). I view these times as an opportunity for disciples to come and lay before God the fruits of their worship (measured by obedient lives during the week), and to encourage and build up one another in those lives of worship. Personally I believe we cheat disciples out of an important experience when the purpose of this time each week becomes about non-Christians. [I am aware that not all attractional ministries use their Sunday assembly as a time for evangelism, but for many this is the core of their mission statement: to make “worship” each Sunday attractive to outsiders.]
- Successful incarnational ministry must involve acting like Christ, and therefore peculiar, outside the walls of the church building and in our communities. Successful attractional ministry requires that a church design their programs in such a way as conform to, and appear like, the outside culture.
- Incarnational ministry leaves a great deal of room for God to draw men to himself as Christians are simply living obedient lives in the kingdom. Attractional evangelism attempts in some ways to do God’s drawing for him by way of skillful programming.
- Incarnational ministry seems to focus on obedience as a lifestyle, while attractional ministry seems to focus on programs.
- It seems to me that attractional ministry lends itself to larger, yet shallower communities of faith.
- Incarnational ministry more easily lends itself to disciple-making, rather than belief in a prescribed idealogy.
- I fear that attractional ministry is often an excuse for people not willing to live markedly spiritual lives in the “secular” world, because that can be so uncomfortable and messy. It’s so much easier to plan an event with sign-up sheets and call lists, than it is to be conspicuously spiritual in “public.” If we host an event, we can determine the “norm” for behavior. Who wants to pray for a coworker in front of others at the office? Or talk in a bar about what God has been teaching me lately?
- Attractional ministry reinforces in many ways the erroneous conviction that there exists a distinction between the sacred and the secular.
- Attractional ministry strengthens in the minds of many non-believers (possibly believers as well) the notion of “we have God in this building / box / program — come to us if you’d like a portion.”
- Attractional ministry is often a “bait-and-switch” of sorts. We invite others to a Starbucks look-alike coffee shop where a Coldplay-like band is followed by a tousled-hair Gap model talking about how much God is like (insert trendy book or movie title here). Then a year later, we wonder why our churches aren’t embracing Jesus’ words about dying to self and even being persecuted for following him. [I know not all attractional churches look like my example above — only the “best” ones…]
- Attractional ministry sometimes reinforces the separation of clergy and laity, because all forms of evangelism end with “…and invite them to church.” It’s universally known that someone will learn better what it means to be a disciple of Christ from the pastor in a sermon than from me in my life.
- Attractional ministry seems to work best in reaching only those who are just like you. OR your alternative is to slog through the difficulties listed below in numbers 13 through 15:
- Attractional ministry often requires that you remove individuals or families from their own culture and community, in order for them to join your church and its culture. Incarnational ministry, however, seeks for God to transform other cultures and communities, redeeming some aspects of them, while allowing others to remain.
- Individuals or groups removed from their culture and community, in order to become part of an attractional church, often lose much of their ability to belong and to witness inside their former culture.
- Attractional ministry will often create new subsets of culture within their own congregation in order to help new converts from other cultures feel comfortable (ie. second language services, new worship styles, etc) in their church. And it’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) for these many subsets to function as one body. Incarnational ministry, however, will encourage, allow, and even help new believers form new congregations or join other existing congregations that are more culturally appropriate for them. (I think the reason for this follows in number 16.)
- Incarnational ministry looks for results in terms of obedience and kingdom life, while attractional ministry more easily lends itself to a numbers-oriented approach to evaluation. Attractional ministry is often about making our own congregation larger and growing in numbers (whether we can function as a body with those numbers or not).
Remember: Mere opinions. I think they’re right, or I wouldn’t hold them — but still… they’re just my opinions.
Next post: Part 3: Centrifugal vs. Centripetal Forces in Mission — how I was taught wrongly.