attractional or missional? programmatic or project driven?

At emergingumc: a gathering we talked a lot about becoming, or reclaiming the idea of a missional church. There are all sorts of really neat diagrams to help visualize what this would me, but basically, in an attractional church, 80% of the church resources and offerings and what happens in the life of the church happens within its four walls. and maybe 20% is spent outside the church with missions or outreach or evangelism. In the missional model, that is reversed… 80% of the church’s time, energy and resources are spent out there in the community and the world and only 20% within the four walls of the church.

I got to thinking about that in relation to Albert Tofflers description of first wave (agricultural), second wave (industrial) and third wave (informational) churches. A first wave church emphasizes the place that they are in. A second wave church emphasizes the programs (usually denominationally based) that it offers. And a third wave church, the coming church in Toffler’s work, emphasizes projects. I think that the attractional model is really based in that modern, 19th and 20th century program church. We have great programs like sunday school and bible studies and choir and this and that and the other, and we want you to come to our church and experience them. While we offer lots of different programs, in some senses it is still a “one-size-fits-all” model of being church. Once you have been a part of the program, you become like the rest of us in the church.

I’m not quite sure if the move to a missional church would entail the “project” driven model that Toffler describes. But it might. He describes this as churches that take on as projects a local health care center, or a homeless ministry – something to meet the needs that they see within the community they are situated. Yet Diana Butler Bass emphasizes that the churches who are really thriving and moving forward right now are “practice” based churches. It is what they do together that matters, not where they do it. Do organic groups fit better under a notion of practice (practicing community, fellowship, open-minded theological discussions) or projects? I think that emphasizing projects can easily slip into a consumer driven mindset… whereas practices might just be the way we need to move forward in the missional church.

We are called to be with the poor. We are called to visit those in prison. We are called to feed the hungry. We are called to break bread with one another. We are called to witness to the love of God in our lives. None of those things speak of a church building. YET – the church building provides the ideal resting place for all of us as we are out in the world doing mission, practicing our faith. We can come together once a week and sing, pray, laugh and eat with one another. And we can find the energy and resources we need to go back out there and do it all again. That is what church is all about – and I hope in my new church I can help them think in terms of mission and being out there instead of what kinds of programs we need to offer the community.

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