I remember the first time I heard the word “missional” several years ago. I looked it up in my Bible concordance – couldn’t find it there. Searched through some Bible commentaries – not there either. Hit the search engines and some obscure websites would come up. Today it’s quite a different story. Missional has the same buzz quality and conference drawing power that seeker-sensitive had back in the 80s and 90s.
The missional vs. attractional church wars continue to rage on with each side having their own cadre of acolytes, heroes and apologists. Questions about the validity of each style are numerous. Can I be a missional church and still be attractional? Can an attractional church be missional? In a UFC mixed-martial arts cage match between a missional lead pastor and an attractional lead pastor, who would win?
Perhaps we should stop approaching the debate about being missional or attractional from a pragmatic and methodological vantage point. Could it be that if we look to Jesus we might gain a better understanding of what we should be engaging in?
Jesus was focused on his mission, manifesting God’s Kingdom that was now accessible to all. Jesus was also attractional in his ministry. The effects of the in-breaking Kingdom (miracles) and his powerful message, caused many to come seek him out. They came out to the “show” and were impacted by the message and his life. Many times though, Jesus would touch individual lives on the way. He would eat and drink with sinners, much to the chagrin of the religious elite. When we look at the what and the how of Jesus’ ministry, we can see that he was both missional and attractional.
We can all point to missional churches that are extremely attractional, attractional churches that are intentionally missional, attractional churches that suck at attracting, and self-proclaimed missional communities that have yet to engage in mission and move out from their worship circle. Our churches should be both and not either/or. These labels of missional and attractional need to take a back seat to what every church should be. What we should be are Gospel-centered churches that engage passionately in His mission and will use attractional means to reach some.
Having recently planted a new church community that would be considered missionally focused, I have come to value all of my experience pastoring in an attractional church. It has helped me to bring along a community of Christ followers into missional engagement while not throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. We have emphasized service as worship and de-emphasized the worship service, not discarded it altogether. We strive to be people-centered and not program-centered. None of this has been easy, but it has been life giving. The one thing that I lean back on is what Jesus said, “I will build my church.”
So where does that leave the whole missional/attractional debate? Can a church that is not about the mission of Jesus, truly be called a church? Can a church that is more interested in their personal agenda and not about caring for their community, be a church? Can a church that cares more about their production value, big budget and elaborate facilities than caring for and building community be a church?