01 If You Build It, Many Won't Come
In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch says that in his home country of Australia, research has shown that between 10% and 15% of people are attracted to the contemporary church model. This means buildings, services, and programs. It means that the church stands as a central hub. This is the way most of us have experienced church.
Hirsch refers to this as the attractional model of church. In this model, we create exciting and “attractive” programs and services so that people will be compelled to come to us. Think of a Billy Graham crusade. They put on these huge stadium events, and Graham’s preaching and the other elements were a big enough draw to bring people into the stadium. Once they were there, they could hear the gospel and respond. And the results were huge!
This approach really derives from our Western consumeristic mentality. Advertisers know that if their products are going to sell, they need to show the public how great their products are. So you sell the products, you make them enticing, and then people come into the store.
The church has adopted this approach on a massive scale in the Western world. We believe we have the most valuable “product” in the world, and we are set on ensuring that everyone sees it as such. So far so good. But our model is taken straight from the shopping mall. We bank everything on creating an inviting, comfortable space, and we provide goods and services that people can “consume.” Did you like the service? Was the pastor’s preaching interesting? Did the music entertain you and/or draw you in? Did you feel welcomed?
None of these elements are bad, but somewhere along the line, we stopped going to the people around us, and we put all of our efforts into convincing them to come to us. Build better events. Send out more colorful mailers. Promote it on social media. Make it free! Make it fun! Promise them deep content that will also make them laugh! Be sure you deliver on the production value so they’ll come again!
This is just how ministry is done in America. And the results have been pretty impressive. But now let’s revisit Alan Hirsch’s research. They found that only 10-15% of Australians are still drawn in by this approach. 10-15%! Which means that you could still have a “successful” church in Australia, but that it would have no positive impact on 85-90% of the population.
Now, this is not Australia. Hirsch points to research showing that in America, around 40% are still attracted to the contemporary church model. That’s way better than Australia, and we could be very happy with our healthy, successful churches. But what about that 60%? What about the majority of our friends, neighbors, and coworkers upon whom this approach to church will not be effective? Are we really okay with missing 60% of our population.
Consider, by contrast, the approach of Jesus. He said that his entire mission was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He wasn’t content to sit back and wait for people to come to him, he went after them. He came to us! And thank God that he did!
Hirsch calls this the missional approach to church. The attractional model is all about getting people into the building or programs, and then working with them there. But the missional model is all about stepping outside of the church building and really living our lives outside of the walls of the church. It means befriending people, building real relationships—not just for the sake of converting them, but for the sake of loving them and valuing them as human beings made in the image of God.
If the church were simply a building, then people have to come to the church. But because the church is actually people, the church can go to the people! And this is exactly how God designed the church to function.
If you were somehow able to start with a blank slate, and all you did was read the New Testament, my guess is that you’d be shocked to then turn to the 21st century church in America. You’d probably think, “Wow, they read the New Testament and decided to put it into practice like this?!” And that’s always our challenge: to read the Scriptures, to saturate ourselves in God’s mission, and then to step into our daily lives and respond.
Too often, the forms of church we’ve inherited inhibit us from pursuing the mission. Shouldn’t we rather reshape our church structures and our daily lives to enhance the mission?
That’s our goal, and it’s the reason we’ve put together this blog.