Here’s a word I’d like to strike from our Christianese dictionary: “Attractional.” The main reason is that for some, attractional is a dirty word. The more I hear arguments against what some call an “attractional” approach to ministry, the more puzzled I become.
Let me fair: when many people use the word “attractional” in a negative sense, they are often criticizing an approach to ministry that downplays conviction of sin and the exclusivity of the Gospel (i.e. the fact that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God) so as to make new people more comfortable. I agree; that is not a biblical approach to ministry. At best, such an approach merely succeeds in filling seats, but not in changing lives. At worst, it convinces people who have yet to enter a relationship with Jesus that there is no need to humble ourselves to the God of the Universe and give their lives to Jesus.
However, I’ve noticed that there are some who are concerned about any attempt to attract people–especially first-time guests who don’t yet know Jesus–to a church environment. I know I’m over-generalizing here, but it seems to me the primary concern of people worried about attractionalism in churches is this: If we try to get people to actually like church, it will eventually (and necessarily) result in proclaiming a message that is watered down, contrary to Scripture, and ultimately false. In short, if someone who doesn’t know Jesus likes to go to church, it must be because the message isn’t true.
I may be crazy, but my take is this: If we–as churches and as individual followers of Jesus–are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, people who are far from God will enjoy attending church with us. They’ll feel welcome, they’ll like the music, and they might even laugh a little during the sermon, even if they disagree with much of it. So instead of using the word “attractional,” let’s just start saying, “Church that unchurched people might actually enjoy, find helpful, and even find themselves beginning a relationship with Jesus in.”
If that’s the kind of church you’d like to lead or be a part of, here are four values that need to be a part of your church culture:
People who are far from God matter to God
Whether or not you believe that statement dictates what you do on Sunday mornings and whether your church is a comfortable place for first-time guests to visit. If you do believe that statement, then you’ll do everything possible to roll out the red carpet for guests each and every weekend.
The only thing that should offend unchurched first-time guests is the Gospel
Confession: I stole this one right from Andy Stanley (see his book Deep and Wide). It’s all to easy to assume that a first-time guest didn’t make a return visit to your church because they weren’t interested in Jesus. Maybe it was because you weren’t interested in the first-guest! You may think you’re the friendliest church around, but if guests aren’t welcomed, you don’t have signs to help a mom of a four-year-old quickly find the children’s are (or a bathroom), or you confuse guests with unnecessarily confusing language, you’re probably offending many of your first-time guests. When that’s the case, they may not be engaged or even stick around long enough to actually hear about Jesus.
Worship services should be enjoyable
If that sentence makes you cringe because you assume that an enjoyable church service means a watered-down message, consider this: Jesus told jokes, shared captivating stories, and even loved a good party. Creating an experience on Sunday mornings (or whenever you gather for worship) that people who don’t yet know Jesus can actually engage with doesn’t mean you’re selling out. It just means that you actually care enough about people who are far from God to create an environment where they’re more likely to hear the unadulterated Gospel.
Outsiders should be made to feel like Insiders
In all too many churches, it’s very difficult for new people to crack the circle and be accepted as an Insider. The biggest issue with this is that it’s far easier for a Christian to figure out how to crack the circle than it is for someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus. Churches where Outsiders are made to feel like Insiders on their first visit will likely do a better job of helping people stick around long enough to be transformed by an encounter with Jesus.