I am sure that this blog will elicit comments for I am not a fan of the attractional church model and believe it is already in severe trouble with the young, old and some in between.

The attractional church model thinking goes like this: If I have a great performance on stage, relevant preaching and lots of programming that I will attract a lot of people, build a large church and therefore experience ministry success. The American church continues down this path blind to the fact that it is often not producing real disciples but that there are a growing number of folks who are rejecting it outright. This blog is not about church size but church philosophy!

Take the young generation. What they see in the attractional model is that people come to get and not give. They desire to be part of communities who are actively living out the gospel rather than simply hearing about the Gospel. There is a fundamental difference between those two. Furthermore they do not relate to a performance up front but would rather be a part of the worship experience. Finally, our preoccupation with service "excellence" is often seen by them as lacking authenticity. They can live with simple if they believe it to be authentic.

Oh, and the preaching? By dumbing down the gospel to make it relevant, by not addressing the radical implications of the gospel - that would make it too uncomfortable. By paying more attention to culture (the relevance thing pastors talk about) they feel cheated on the truth thing (what Jesus has to say about life). All of these reasons contribute to the dearth of the under thirty crowd in many churches.

On the other end of the spectrum are the fifty plus crowd who are increasingly but quietly leaving attractional church models looking for something different. They feel cheated in the worship (not just worship style) but in the often shallow worship theology and show up front. They especially feel cheated by the lack of emphasis on the word of God in today's "relevant" preaching. And they are more interested in doing ministry that makes a difference in the world rather than attending another program in the church. They have not rejected the church but they have rejected the attractional model of the church.

When I look at the American church at large today I ask the question, where are the gospel centered churches where truth is proclaimed carefully with real application. I ask, where are the gospel centered churches where the emphasis is more on reaching those outside God's Kingdom than programming ourselves to death to justify our buildings and facilities. One can see with our current model why it takes 168 people one year to bring one person to Christ in the course of a year.

I also ask how we have so mangled our definitions of success so that almost all that is talked about are numbers on weekends. We claim that spiritual transformation is our goal but the real marker in many Churches has nothing to do with that and all to do with numbers to justify the success of the pastor.

In a mentoring conversation recently with a young pastor I asked him how he would feel if there was not growth to his church in the next three years. His church has deeply problematic health issues and they may be what he needs to focus on. It took him a moment to say he would be all right with that....because for most of us success is in the numbers.

When I read the story of the early church I do see numbers being added to their ranks regularly. But the emphasis was not on the numbers. It was on radically living out the implications of the gospel - meeting together to share the elements and receive teaching, sharing their possessions with one another and being the people of God in their circles of influence which is why for instance the gospel penetrated whole communities with radical conversions, powerful miracles and a high emphasis on the word - read the story in Acts 19.

We have a deeply American model of church which has many differences from the Biblical model of church. A congregation I attend from time to time is a simple Anglican church. No flashy music, simple Biblical teaching, great Biblical liturgy and prayers and participation in the service of ordinary congregants who take their ministry seriously. Half of those that are there are former members of my own denomination who have left "attractional churches" for the simplicity of the gospel.

I predict that the American church of the future will look very different than it does today - in Evangelical circles. I pray that it is more word centered, authentic in its worship and committed to living out the "good works" God designed for us in our communities and circles of influence rather than through its programming keeping folks in the church. The program of God for the church is that they impact their communities, workplaces and circles of influence through living out and sharing the implications of the gospel.

I celebrate every gospel centered church I find, and the number is growing. They hold the key to the future of the American church. And they will attract people who are hurting, needy and looking for an authentic Jesus who can bring authentic change to their lives. Is it possible that the church of the future will attract people because it is centered on the person of Jesus Christ above all else? And in living out the implications of the gospel?
  • Oct 12, 2010
  • Category: News
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