The Attractional/Missional Fallacy

There have been a handful of interesting articles popping up regarding the distinction between “missional” and “attractional” models of doing Church. Dan Kimball has a recent post up at Out of Ur. Bob Hyatt responded to Dan here. There are some other posts at Out of Ur here and here that speak to the issue.

While I understand what these two adjectives imply, I don’t think they are very helpful. In essence, all churches are both attractional and missional. Churches attract folks to their mission, whatever that mission looks like. In my opinion, there are better questions to ask: How does a church define their mission? How do they go about attracting folks to that mission? And what is their criteria for success in communicating or inviting others to become apart of said mission? I think that says a lot more about what kind of church you are than professing a “missional” or “attractional” model.

In my experience, mega churches seem to be adopting the concept of creating a concert atmosphere or a “going to the movies” vibe. The lights are usually pretty low. The music is loud, there is some kind of elaborate set on the stage, there are colored lights, lighting the musicians. The question I have is what do people normally do when they go to a concert, or a movie, after the event ends? They go home, usually to never see or talk to the other attendees ever again. Not that strong relational bonds can’t be formed, but the environment doesn’t emphasize relationships. It emphasizes entertainment and comfort in order to keep new faces coming in.

Also from my experience, smaller communities are by nature more exclusive, more transparent and emphasize relationships while not being so concerned with growth. There seems to be less emphasis on “right belief” and more openness to differing views, unless those views are saying, “We need to sing more Chris Tomlin songs.” 😉

Both models have upsides and downsides. Much of what works for the individual depends on how they perceive the nature of the Gospel to be. If the Gospel is a clearly defined set of religious beliefs, then it makes a lot of sense to pull out all the stops to bring folks in so they can be exposed to those beliefs. If the Gospel is understood to be more mysterious, harder to put into a statement of faith and is more evident in relational connections to other like-minded believers, then a smaller community, church, house church may be more attractive.

Again, both models are attractional and missional. It just depends on how you attract folks to your mission and what your mission is in the first place.


6 thoughts on “The Attractional/Missional Fallacy

  1. Hey Zach.

    I think it was Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost who started the whole missional and attractional comparisons, to my best understanding.

    And that is why those terms are used with missional leaders. I have never heard the terms used my any megachurch or any church saying “we are using an attractional model”. So this is more of an insiders missional church leaders types of discussion as the terms developed from within it, as there was comparison made to other approaches.


  2. well said zach.

    but if you are attracting a lot of people with a theater model or video venue and those people can recite your beliefs back to you, how do you argue with that? you’ve been “successful.”

  3. Attraction and repulsion are interesting dynamics in the human condition. What one person find irresistible another may find irritating. I’ve seen this with religious events in my own life. My hubby refuses to join me at any church because he says it feels forced. He feels as though he is just there to be indoctrinated and not because he wants to be gathered with others to worship. He is more interested in spontaneous acts of divinity (acknowledging the beauty of nature, listening to a friend in trouble etc.) I enjoy the weekly break from our normally self centered (what I have to do, need to buy, need for work etc.) lives in order to join in a community of like-minded spiritual people. Neither of us are right or wrong. It’s a delicate balance churches must find between message and attendance.

  4. Being someone who was very involved at Vintage for almost two years and still sees several staff members frequently, I understand Dan’s post. Vintage attracts a lot of young artist type people here in Santa Cruz. I hear all the time that new people are coming through their doors week after week. And new believers are happening. But, on the flip side, perhaps the reason that more are going to places like Vintage is because they have no other option. They don’t want to go to your local megachurch or stay at the church their parents went to. So they either go to a place like Vintage or (like many of my friends) stop going to church altogether. When I decided to stop going to Vintage I had a mini freak out session because I realized that I would have no community. But luckily I found a group of friends here in Santa Cruz. A smaller communityu like this is so important that when this community ends in the Spring I am considering moving to SF just to be a part of ReImagine because being connected is so important for me.

    I ran into a guy recently at 24 Hr and he told me that he stopped going to Vintage as well and is really looking for something smaller. There are more and more people like this.

    So I really agree with Bob’s post. What he offers is something for people (like myself) who don’t connect with the attractional view. I think they both are needed. But I think that he and Barna are right, we will start to see declines in the larger churches over the next few years. I really believe that if more of these smaller communities don’t start forming then we will see a massive amount of people leaving church altogether. Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just saying this from experience.

  5. With regards to your statements re: Attractional church resembling a concert with low levels of community residual, I can’t help but think of my students who are heavily involved with the hardcore scene. Their lives and identity seem so incredibly tied to the shows that they attend. I guess it might be a more exclusive group, and therefore resemble the smaller community gathering, but a show could still involve hundreds of people…
    I’m not trying to hippify the church at all, but I wonder if these straight edgers, or if the “emo kids,” (another possibly example of a show building community) have something to teach those of us seeking to build community.

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