Who Cares If Your Church Is Attractive?

Becoming attractive to the unchurched….

That was the driving goal behind much of our church programming during the 20th century. We existed in the Modern Era, wherein the Christian faith was well-regarded, enjoying respect in our larger culture. There were numbers of people who were not involved in churches who were considering finding a church. Trusted people in their lives (grandparents, co-workers, friends) shared the stories of the Christian faith with them, making the Christian story culturally relevant, even while Christianity enjoyed many cultural privileges. Those churches who were attractive (programming, worship, ministries, or staff) drew some of these people to them.

Then we entered the Postmodern Era wherein everything changed. Without tracing the numerous factors influencing this cultural religious shift, it’s simply obvious that the large numbers of people who were previously looking for a church….shrunk. Organized religion and Christianity-as-it-has-been-expressed is falling out of favor with our larger culture in North America. The cultural boost we enjoyed from being the religion of the empire is declining.

Given this shift in our culture, how does this influence the driving goal to become attractive to the unchurched? Attractiveness still has its place. The Postmodern goal is not to become unattractive as churches. In fact, churches who invest in improving their expression through quality improvement, greater spirituality, better outreach, and trying harder will see some numeric results. Refugee Christians from smaller, less energized churches will transfer to them, joining with some of the last bastions of familiar 20th century Christian culture. Churches can still find consultants and trainers who will help them improve their Modern Era church paradigms, potentially experiencing a short term numerical bump. Eventually though, even these churches will discover that no matter how attractive they become (great sermon series, fantastic youth program, etc), the world around them just doesn’t care. Church is not on their radar, no matter how wonderful and seemingly attractive these churches become.

So what does this world really need? Even better, what is God really about in our world? Congregations shifting from the attractional church paradigm to the missional church model are discovering that God’s mission is larger than what we believed. The center of God’s activity is in the world, actualizing the kingdom of reconciliation, restoration, healing, justice, and fruits of the Spirit. These churches shift their focus from themselves to their communities. These churches believe God’s mission is to save the world, rather than get people to their church events. These churches recognize it’s not about them, it’s about God and God’s mission. Success for them is not gathering huge numbers, it’s joining God’s redemptive activity 24/7. Like the former Archbishop of Canterbury said, “It is not the church of God that has a mission, it is the God of mission that has a church.” These churches find their souls by joining God’s movement in the world. Their metrics are about going, being, and doing in the world. By laying aside their culturally conditioned impulse to put on a really great show which draws them in, they discover the life-giving movement of God wherein the kingdom is coming to earth as it is in heaven. Through giving themselves away (as did Jesus), they discover a way of living which contributes to world transformation. These churches find they are caught up in Lord’s Prayer kind of living…”thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I want to miss out on this life-giving missional movement, joining God where God is…in the world.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA