Friday, April 25, 2008

Confession from a Former "Attractional" Leader

I just got back from attending the Exponential Conference for church planters. During one of the break outs, Alan Hirsch, co-author of the book The Shaping of Things to Come, had reminded me of a lesson I learned while serving at a church in suburban Dallas, TX. Hirsch was discussing the Recovery of the Centrality of Jesus in his Own Movement. He began to discuss how our Christology determines our missiology, which determines our ecclesiology.
A few thoughts: as for Christology, Jesus as the founder of the movement sets the primary template; Missiology is our purpose and function; ecclesiology – church comes out of our missionary engagement.

I know this all too well. When I was on staff at a church in suburban Dallas, I was told to take over our Sunday night service. I was determined to plant a “church within a church.” That is, I had seen the struggle of evangelical churches to connect with people 18-29, so I tailored our service to reach and impact that group. It was a great service, but it rarely reached higher than 50, and only occasionally did we have people come from the outside to attend and stick around. I had a very attractional mindset. I thought that if I put on a service that was creative, meaningful and relevant to 18-29 year olds, the members of my core group would invite their seeker friends, they would come and we would grow and reach people. Not so much. I should have arranged for our core group to get involved less in serving the church (that is the programs of our church) and more in serving the community and cultivating relationships with the purpose of evangelism. Now, in my defense, I did this without sacrificing any of my other duties, like overseeing small groups, “discipleship programs”, administrative duties, hospital visits, my involvement in helping “craft our regular worship services, etc…

Unfortunately, that was the mindset of our leadership (myself included): attractional outreach. We had abandoned small groups as the outreach arm of the church (which used to be the M.O. of “my denomination” for decades.) Small groups really served to educate our attenders. We transitioned to let our worship service be the outreach arm of our church. When you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and you are using your worship service as your outreach, it better be a pretty good show. People could drive to see Ed Young (who planted a campus less than 15 minutes from our campus). Young people were driving 45 minutes to go hear Matt Chandler at The Village Church. Prestonworld was only 10-15 minutes away. Lake Pointe was about 15 minutes away. Those (and many others) could put on a better show (heck, we couldn’t even use the drums in our “blended” worship services, so we had to create a “contemporary” service. This was in suburban Dallas!)

I learned a great lesson. I realized I had made that mistake when I went to an Acts 29 boot camp in 2005 and heard Ed Stetzer discuss this. It was a great lesson. I am not bashing the attractional style of outreach. Ed Young (Jr.) always inspires me to think creatively, Rick Warren has baptized over 20,000 people and planted 100s of churches, and Andy Stanley is reaching people for Christ in Metro Atlanta and has planted 17 other churches mainly in the Southeast. What I am saying is if you are going to draw people by putting on a show, it had better be the best show in town.

What I would do differently? I would eliminate a lot of the programs that draw people to the church and stop recruiting people to use their gifts to serve the “church” (by that I mean the programs that make up a local church). I would seek to get our people more involved in their neighborhoods, in their schools and elsewhere serving the community all for the purpose of impacting the Kingdom both socially and individually.

My old church may be faced with this dilemma soon. Lake Pointe recently opened a campus less than 5 minutes from their campus in North Garland. How do you compete with that show? You do what maybe they can’t do as well: you impact the neighborhoods and schools that are within on mile of the church on a personal and impactful way. Show them that you are truly relevant and care for them by serving them and telling them what compels you to serve: the love of Jesus Christ to whom you’ve committed your life and inviting them on the journey.

6 comments:

Tony Wheeler said...

Hey! Great thoughts. I'm right there with you...it is a tough transition, that is for sure!

I went to Alan's session directly after his plenary track session simply because I was overwhelmed by what he had to say. I've been wanting Forgotten Ways for some time, picked it up at the conference. It is one of the next books I'm reading.

Blessings my friend!

billy v said...

Alan has really challenged me as has Reggie McNeal.

Tony said...

If the way we will increasingly need to do evangelism in the future is changing, so is the way we ought to be doing church websites. Internet Evangelism Day's church website design self-assessment tool helps churches to look at ways that would make their sites actually relate to outsiders in the community.

Blessings

Tony

The MAN Fan Club said...

I actually read the whole blog and it kind of reminds me of the parrish thing in St. Louis. Why can't churches serves as neighborhood churches. We probably drive past 20 churches or close to that many on our way to the church that we attend. We have so many people coming from outside of Mckinney to attend our church. We do outreach things and we're nowhere near our neighborhood.

geo said...

Everything you described in the early part of this post is what I've been working on building since the fall of '05. We've made great progress and despite having a ways to go have made some huge steps toward this missional attitude (and outward focus instead of inward focus). Wish you could be here to see it first hand to know what I'm talking about.

geo said...

Everything you described in the early part of this post is what I've been working on building since the fall of '05. We've made great progress and despite having a ways to go have made some huge steps toward this missional attitude (and outward focus instead of inward focus). Wish you could be here to see it first hand to know what I'm talking about.