|Choir at Olive Branch Fellowship, MS|
When those who care talk about church growth and development today, two terms are tossed around—“missional” and “attractional.” In very simple terms, a missional church is one that understands that it exists to be part of the mission of God and that a significant part of that mission is outward focused. In fact, sometimes the term “externally focused” is used for this approach. This is the “go and tell” emphasis. The attractional church is concerned about what goes on within its walls or within the faith community and seeks ways to bring people in or attract them to the church meetings. This is the “come and hear” emphasis.
Traditional church growth efforts have tended to be about attracting the unchurched through special events, unique ministries, and quality worship. In recent years, the missional orientation has arisen as a corrective to this methodology by challenging Christians to look outside their fellowship and be on mission for God. Usually these two are juxtaposed to one another and the dichotomy is emphasized. Perhaps the healthier attitude is “both/and” rather than “either/or.”
Churches do want people to come to regular times of worship, nurture, and fellowship. This is focus of Hebrews 10:25—worshipping, equipping, and encouraging one another. On the other hand, if we are to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be (Matthew 5:13-16), believers must be present and active in the world.
Writers like Findley Edge and Eddie Hammett introduced me to the terminology of “the gathered and scattered church,” but this seems to be the way that the people of God functioned in the New Testament. They went about their daily business, sharing their witness through their lives and helping others. Sometimes the “scattering” was involuntary as they suffered persecution. No matter what they did in the world or where they found themselves, they always made gathering for worship, prayer, and encouragement a priority and they invited those that they encountered in their daily walk to join in their fellowship.
An over-emphasis on one or the other is unhealthy. We have often seen some version of this sign in churches: “Gather to worship; depart to serve.” This is still the Kingdom way.