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Missional Communities series | Post #16

March 30, 2011

Our last two posts in this ongoing Missional Communities series have dealt with an idea that Michael Green wrote in Thirty Years that Changed the World. The basic idea is this: The early church saw explosive growth because they had a red hot, burning center of everything that was hugely inviting. It was the family, rhythmic flywheel of Passionate Spirituality, Radical Community and Missional Zeal. The people were seeing unbelievable spiritual transformation and breakthrough, a deep commitment to each other and each other’s welfare and a passion to grow the family. When people who didn’t know Jesus were close to “the fire” (the rhythms of the family), it drew them in because they were living such beautifully different, meaningful, adventurous lives. It was infectious.

In our last post we looked at the reason this happen: Basically, that because people’s primary identity for church was in the home, representing extended families of about 40 people. This size allowed people on the fringes close enough to the fire to be drawn into it. We then looked at how most of our churches are structured (i.e. because it’s about gathering large groups of people, very few can actually get to the red hot center of the community, most are trying to get closer to the warm fire at the center of the community but can’t).

For this post, I’d like to make one simple point and then repost the natural segue to these thoughts in what has been the most trafficked post on my blog thus far: Can a church be missional AND attractional?

Before the repost, one point I’d like to make (and will make again in the repost as well, but from a different angle).

Imagine that this red hot center burning at the center of every Missional as a sort of torch and every Missional Community has one.

The thing with torches is that they are really portable and for Missional Communities, that’s really important. A Missional Community, by definition, finds a crack or crevice in society that is dark and incarnates a Jesus community there, slipping into that crevice with the “torch” of Jesus. Can’t fit a giant bon fire in that crack, only a torch will work. So the flexibility and portability of the torch is huge.

BUT…torches also go out fairly easy. One little rain storm and it’ll go out. While they are portable, without proper care, they will flame out in a short amount of time. Or even if it doesn’t flame out, it’ll smolder and become far less bright and brilliant than it once did. People don’t tend to gravitate towards burning out torches. We lose that infectiousness without the burning fire.

I would suggest that there is a dire missional need for these torches to regularly gather together so that we aren’t simply torches scattered along the missional frontier, slowly flickering out. Rather, by coming together, there are times when we are a raging bonfire and we continue to burn hotter and brighter once we return to the missional frontier. I would say there are times when the torch needs to go out and “DO,” but there are times when the torches need to come together, create a giant fire, regain nourishment and just “BE.” In the early church we see this duality.

People’s primary expression of “church” was in the home as they broke bread, did life together, cared for each other and households grew. However, these extended family churches would then all come together and gather at the Temple regularly. So you had both, but both needed the other to find its’ proper place.

To further illustrate this point, here is my post, “Can a church be Missional AND Attractional?”


Recently JR Rozko put up a review of our newest book, Launching Missional Communities, on his blog. I’ve met JR before, and while I wouldn’t say I know him well at all, I definitely love the way he processes and he has a great blog which you can read here. It is thoughtful, provocative and is asking all the right kind of questions.

His review of mine and Alex’s book (you can read the review here), was overwhelmingly positive. I thought he summed up well what we were trying to do in the book:

  • Discipleship, leadership and mission are the driving themes of both the book and the entire philosophy of missional communities.  To get the point of the book, you have to understand that from the author’s perspective, the task of the church is discipleship – period – the end.  Any they are right.  You also have to embrace the idea that the replication of leaders is imperative to the larger task of discipleship.  If you don’t equip and empower leaders, you can kiss your changes of exponential discipleship bye-bye.  Again, I’m totally with em here.  Finally, mission is the context in which leaders are equipped and disciples are formed.  Amen!  If you can embrace and own these three things, then you’ll love this book and what it offers.

This is exactly what we’re trying to do in this book. Show how discipleship, leadership and mission can all come together in a practical way in Missional Communities…and give a resource to people to help teach them their biggest question: How do we do this?

As positive as JR’s review was, he did have one critique, and I thought it would be beneficial to open it up for a little discussion. Not in an antagonistic way, but as something that’s worth discussing. It revolved around the use and exploration of doing Missional AND Attractional in one church. In the end, I think JR and I would come down on the same page. Here was his one quibble, which he expressed on two fronts, analogical and theological:

  • In the book, I used the example of the coming together of the Roman model and Celtic model and how this was used to great effect to evangelize the whole of Europe. His comment: The analogical problem here is that what is generally meant today by attractional and missional does not at all correspond to the realities and circumstances in which these models of churches existed.
  • Second, he quotes this from LMC: We just need to understand what Attractional does well and do it. We need to understand what Missional does well and do it. His response to this: Impossible – attractional and missional churches are such because they have divergent understandings of basic Christian doctrines.  What we need is a theologically robust understanding the relationship between the the Missio Dei, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Church.  This will lead us not to the ‘best’ of these two models, but to a cohesive vision of a missional ecclesiology.  This is the great error of ‘AND’ thinking; you never get to core issues because you spend all your time trying to artificially hold incompatible things together. The saddest part of this is that the underlying genius of the book actually does this work.  It undercuts the errant theology and philosophy driving attractional churches.  I just wish they had been more direct in stating it.

This was JR’s critique of the book.

As I’ve thought about this for the past few days, the predominant thing that comes to mind is that we probably could have done a better job fleshing out this concept and in the 2nd edition of the book, we definitely will. The problem is the way that I use the word “Attractional” and the way that most everyone else does can be different at times, which can lead to this kind of confusion. My guess is we will look at using a different word in the future.

Here is what we were trying to get at: There is something inherently attractive about a group of people coming together to worship their Father and King once they’ve been actively engaged in the mission field. In other words, the gathered church, coming in from being scattered, is unbelievably attractive.


Because it is the power of the reconciled community.

When a scattered church gathers, when we tell stories of mission to each other, engage in the sacred act of communion, worship as hundreds and thousands of people, hear from the scriptures and respond, look around and see every tribe and tongue and we do all of this in the presence of the Holy Spirit…this is wildly attractive to a great number of people (not everyone, but a lot).

This act of gathering the scattered church, I think, is something akin to what Newbiggin talks about when saying the church community should be a SIGN and a FORETASTE of the Kingdom that will be brought to fulfillment. It points to a future reality and provides a taste of that reality. (And as Newbiggin says, is an INSTRUMENT when it is scattered and in the mission field).

The church that I led in Sheffield was this kind of a church and I’m starting to see it in the churches we are working with in the United States. When Sheffield’s scattered church gathered together, in one room, there were rich, poor, old, young, former prostitutes, former drug addicts, former felons, former snobs, the homeless, former Hindu, former Muslims, people from Africa, Europe, America, Asia…all under one roof worshiping the same God. Thousands of people. I can’t begin to describe what worship is like in that context. (In fact, I bet JR could give us some insight as he just recently returned from the Lausanne Conference in South Africa where he experienced a similar thing).

To certain kinds of people, this is wildly attractive, in the same way that Jesus was so wildly attractive that large crowds often gathered to him.

I think this is the biggest difference between what I’m talking about with Attractional (and may stop using all together) and many other people: Why do we primarily gather and what is the byproduct?

My primary reason in gathering of all of our scattered Missional Communities is to worship God. I believe we are powerfully formed when we gather in the public space, in a large group, and orient our hearts and minds toward our Savior and King. My primary reason isn’t to disciple people in this setting (though they are spiritually formed) and I’m not trying to see how many people we can get in the seats.

The community was scattered out on the mission field. And now we are gathered together, locking shields together, resting in the embrace and arms of our Father, responding to his Spirit that works within us.

That is my primary reason for gathering people.

Now there is a byproduct: Often, because this reconciled community of people (the body of Jesus) and the Spirit of Jesus in that place are so wildly attractive, people come to know him. They decide to become disciples of Jesus. That happened often in Sheffield. But it wasn’t the primary objective of gathering. We weren’t measuring the “success” of the service in decisions made. We weren’t measuring success by how many people were in the seats. Our way of being the church always found far more people in Missional Communities than in our worship service. The worship service was not used as a direct attempt to “grow” the church. But it almost always did grow.

Success was worshiping God! Success was listening to what God was saying to us as a gathered community and responding to it.

What is unhelpful is many people use the word “Attractional” differently. And it comes down to the primary reason for gathering and the byproduct of gathering. In the way many people seem to use it, the primary reason to gather is to increase the number of people in the church and see as many decisions for Christ as possible. Recently, we heard a pastor say to the people in the worship service, “If you’re a Christian, this service isn’t for you. If you weren’t a Christian last week, it was for you. But it no longer is. This exists for people who aren’t Christians.”

In this way, “Attractional” as it is often expressed exists to gather as many people as possible and get them saved. The byproduct is worshiping God.

Now I think many would disagree with this. They would say, “It’s both. We want people to become Christians AND we want people to worship. They are of equal importance.” The problem is that their behavior doesn’t reinforce this idea. The success of worship is almost always evaluated on: 1) How many people are attending? 2) How many people made decisions?

“Success” isn’t based on simply coming together and worshiping. For me, success is simply being obedient…God has asked us to gather and worship him, we did, thus, we were “successful.”

In sum, what I am trying to say is that when the scattered church gathers, it is massively attractive and it isn’t unusual to see people come to faith or attendance increasing. But it’s attractive because of the work happening outside the Sunday gathering that is then being brought into the service. I’m simply recognizing there is inherent value in gathering all of our scattered parts together, that we are spiritually formed in such an experience in both a positive and powerful way. I’m acknowledging that to be true. There are many within the missional/organic stream of thinking who deny the need or goodness to gathering large groups of people together to worship. It is this point that I feel needs addressing with the word “AND.” We need the scattered AND the gathered church, but I might use those terms slightly differently than others.

I don’t fall into the camp that has abandoned large worship gatherings, which to me, feels a bit reactive. If that’s all you’re doing and maybe some small groups, you’re just not going to make disciples, which is the task Jesus has given us. But if the worship service is an environment for a scattered church of Missional Communities to gather, it is not only helpful but, I believe, necessary.

This is quite possibly the longest post I have ever written!! 😉 But I think this is great discussion to have. And I’m glad JR pointed this out in his review because I think we could have done a bit better job clarifying how we are using the terms and our thoughts behind it.

Look forward to more discussion on this.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2011 12:57 pm

    Thanks Mike – can’t tell you how good it is to hear your voice come through like this in your posts!

    i just wanted to make a couple of points – possible other models that could add helpfully to the discussion.

    1) Ralph Winter’s modality & sodality model for the church down the ages. So rather than seeing it as missional /attractional or gathered / dispersed.
    Using that model the missional communities (sodalities) gathering together to worship God has nothing really to do with the modal (normal life) church, but it seems to me to be more about gathering sodal people to worship God, not creating a new super-church.

    2) George Lings here in Sheffield (my boss) has studies the monastic communities down the years, noting similarities between many different groups, and has come up with a model for community life he calls the seven sacred spaces. in this model ‘chapel’ – which generally in the West has come to be what most people think of as Church – is only one space; there are 6 more that together make up a healthy community.
    SO the idea that if missional communities come together to worship it is therefore attractional church again needs to be put in context – if the coming together is just one way of 7 that the life of the church is expressed it kind of diffuses the tension between being either missional or attractional.

    i hope that makes sense! If you want either of these documents i’d happily send you a copy.



  2. Gary May permalink
    March 30, 2011 4:04 pm

    This adds considerable clarity for me as to the role of the “Church”. I have been trying to figure out how large churches are to be relavent even though it seems that the goal of small churches is to become a large church. I now understand that it has to be through Missional Communities as they produce the hot center. Onward for the Kingdom! Thanks.

  3. March 30, 2011 8:13 pm

    Mike, love what you are doing here and I think the analogy works well. Glad you are advancing this conversation.

    There are few unspoken dynamics at work here that I think deserve mentioning.

    1) I see you reclaiming a theological and helpful vision of what I might call “missional attractionality.”

    Absolutely, we should expect that God would draw people to himself as his community participates in his mission in the world. But it is this activity alone, and never slick programming, cool facilities, advertising & marketing campaigns, etc. that should be “the draw.” It is a humble reminder, from the life of Jesus, that faithfulness to God’s mission will not always be attractive. No one likes to be confronted with their sin or challenged in their fundamental assumptions about who God is and how God works. Neither is the call to discipleship, when fully understood, immediately attractive to our natural inclinations. At the same time, God’s work of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, etc., has a divine beauty that is hard to resist. Sadly, these are seldom the sorts of things that churches lean on as primary points of attraction.

    2) I see you recasting the nature and purpose of large gatherings.

    The problem isn’t size, the problem is purpose. If and when large gatherings exist to serve the purposes (fan the flame) of smaller, oikos-like, missional communities, I think they are doing well. If and when these the smaller, oikos-like, missional communities exist to serve the purposes of a large, corporate gathering, I think we’ve missed the mark somewhere. Sadly, this is precisely the structure of the vast majority of large, attractional megachurches. The bulk of time, energy, and finances goes into making the large gathering happen (and happen with increasing grandeur). Sometimes, in the context of these gatherings, increasing lip-service will even be given to “missional” stuff – groups, activities, etc. This gives the appearance of real change, but in my experience, there is no real change to speak of, just talk. I assume you would agree that meaningful and lasting change springs from actually shifting structures, finances, and energy (along with language) to the creation and labors of missional communities. Yes?

    This all points to what I understand to be the central (unspoken) issue here…

    3) A renewed understanding of salvation and the gospel.

    And here is where I think the rubber meets the road in this conversation. So long as we let people hold on to Christendom-shaped conceptions of what the gospel and salvation are all about, the sort of ecclesiology you are espousing here will only be received as a pragmatic tactic that we hope “works” in a shifting culture. It will continue to be received as “the next big thing” as opposed to a wholesale reorientation to the nature and purpose of the church flowing from a missional vision of God and salvation. Because quite honestly, if the gospel can actually be boiled down to, “Jesus died for your sins and if you believe (intellectually assent to) this you will go to Heaven when you die,” then the traditional attractional model of church is what we should stick with, it logically follows. If, on the other hand, we conceive of salvation as our actual response to and participation in the good news of the Kingdom, God’s mission in the world, then the model of church you envision begins to make much more sense.

    I think that’s what you’re after and if so, I’m in.

    • April 1, 2011 8:37 am

      JR Rozko, you said:

      ”If and when large gatherings exist to serve the purposes (fan the flame) of smaller, oikos-like, missional communities, I think they are doing well. If and when these the smaller, oikos-like, missional communities exist to serve the purposes of a large, corporate gathering, I think we’ve missed the mark somewhere.’

      Thank you for this; I’d not grasped what the point of larger gatherings was within the missional community way of doing things. I found your whole comment very helpful.

      And thank you, Mike, for giving more food for thought! It’s come at a good time for me.

    • The Neemanns permalink
      April 5, 2011 5:27 pm

      Thanks to 3DM and our gracious Father, I’m pretty sure we are on the right path!!! I mean, scripturally speaking!!! Keep up the tremendous work…praying!!! xo

  4. Edward Green permalink
    March 31, 2011 10:59 am

    Really interesting stuff, reflecting on it from a Rural Sacramental perspective where we have a number of small village church communities within a larger team.

  5. March 31, 2011 5:51 pm

    Hi Mike,

    This difference between a megachurch which uses ‘small groups’ or ‘satellite congregations’ to fuel itself and build a Babel-style empire, and a genuinely pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit which reverses the flow of power and resources (i.e, outwards!) is really, really important.

    But here’s a problem. For the last year I’ve been researching the ‘private lives’ of mission pioneers, and I’ve found that they are often a particular ‘type’ of person: self-motivated, self-contained, often quite ‘driven’, and very poor at making time for God and/or sabbath in their lives. So, for them, a central gathering which is only for the edification of the saints is going to feel ‘wrong’ to them: self-indulgent, inward-looking, maybe even a waste of time. These pioneers are not good at looking after themselves, nor are they good at encouraging the communities they lead to do the kind of relational re-envisioning work you describe in the first part of the article.

    I’m presuming this is not a problem unique to Leeds – how do you deal with it?

  6. June 10, 2011 4:36 pm


    Thank you for your hospitality in hosting a model Missional Community in your lovely home this week at the 3DM workshop. 55 of us filled felt cozy in your living room. The whole experience was very helpful, and Steve & the team did a great job! This series is very helpful as I’m trying to reconcile the rhythms of MC-Gathering time, and the existing structures and metrics we use in our denomination. I’m a director of new faith communities and church planting veteran, who started with an attractional model and 4 years in realized the needed conversion to a missional community mindset. I’ve been trying to reconcile the fact that most of the 700 we reached came to faith in our worship services, but had their faith ignited in small groups who had a singular mission. Those groups always tended to drift down to 4-6 (like huddles) or up to 30+ (like MC’s). They would each function organically as each too, despite my effort to force the 12 ideal! God was taking us to this and we didnt have a name for it. Thank you for the pioneering work you have done and innovative work you continue to do. And thanks to JR Rozko above for “missional attractionality.” I look forward to ongoing interface with MC’s and 3DM.

    • June 10, 2011 11:44 pm

      Jeff, glad the MC workshop was so helpful! Sally and I are sorry we couldn’t be there. Hope to see you soon.


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