The Attractional Church
Over the past 40 years, the Christian church in America has been deeply impacted by the attractional church movement, a movement that emphasized for churches to be relatable and effective in reaching the unchurched. These attractional churches conducted services and programs in such a way that people would be “attracted” to church.
As a result, today we have many churches across many denominations and backgrounds that look a lot like Willow Creek or Saddleback, two churches that helped usher in this attractional church model that so many have implemented to more effectively reach people for Christ. Many church plant strategies heavily emphasize the attractional church model and for good reason; we’d all especially love to have people attracted to our churches rather than repelled by them!
But frankly, a church plant without as many resources has a hard time being as attractional as they’d like to be, mostly because of limited time, energy, and resources (both financial and human).
How can a church plant be more attractional with such limited resources?
Our Context in New York City
To share a little context, we live and minister in New York City, a city where there are a plethora of attractional gatherings, from music to art to fashion to film, that vie for people’s’ attention. Meanwhile, even the large churches in NYC are well known for their amazing music (like The Brooklyn Tabernacle and Hillsong NYC) or their once-in-a-generation preachers (like Tim Keller and AR Bernard).
How in the world can a church plant in NYC be as attractional as any of the above?
Three Essentials for an Attractional Church
When we start new churches in NYC, I encourage our church planters to think missional/incarnational and attractional. We should intentionally be living out both manners of outreach for our unchurched friends, family, and neighbors.
When it comes to being an attractional church, I know we can likely never be as “excellent” or maybe even as talented as some of the larger churches in our area. But I truly believe one word changes the game when it comes to starting an attractional community in the city.
It’s the word presence.
The Presence of Transcendent Worship
First, does our community have the presence of transcendent worship?
We don’t have to have the bells and whistles or the perfect stage environment or the best musicians. We simply need worshippers who aren’t faking it. If we can cultivate communities that inspire awe, wonder, and worship of God, then a space can immediately become attractive by its sense of transcendence, that people authentically and passionately believe in God and will cry out to Him in worship.
This is not to say that excellence shouldn’t be present (because it should), but it is to say that the presence of transcendent worship supersedes any cosmetic forms of worship.
Here are a couple of questions I often ask:
- Are our gatherings inspiring transcendent worship, everything from welcome to singing to preaching to liturgy?
- Are people not only hearing about God, are they experiencing God?
I truly believe that skeptics and seekers today are attracted to transcendent worship, and I think church plants should focus on cultivating this heart first, before working on some of the “forms” of attractive worship environments.
The Presence of a Loving Community
The second essential for an attractional church is the presence of a loving community. Building a loving community doesn’t necessarily take massive amounts of financial resources to build. Instead, the very opposite can be true!
The questions I ask when it comes to our environments are:
- Do people enjoy being there with each other?
- Do people linger to eat together, pray together, laugh together, and cry together?
This is why I believe the launch process is so important. It’s a time to really build a loving community.
There have been times when our church launched too soon, and I think it was because we had all the programs of our ministry in place, but we didn’t have the soul of friendship. There’s something incredibly sticky about a community that lingers in environments due to love, and this love is not easy to build, but it’s cultivated with “time, togetherness, talking, and tacos” (another phrase we often use).
The Presence of a Loving Community in a Neighborhood
There’s something awfully attractive about people who are generous with their time, energy, and resources, particularly for people beyond their huddle.
I truly believe these three elements of presence are our most powerful tools toward being attractional. We might not have the best preaching or the best music or the best family environments (although we’ll certainly work hard on these), but if we have presence, we have something far more attractive than anything this world may offer.
Published December 12, 2017