Friday, August 04, 2006

"What You Win Them with Is What You When Them to"

This statement, spoken by Randy Harris at the Lipscomb Summer Celebration, is an idea that has stuck with me, in my craw since I heard it. I realized in listening to it the bald faced truth of it.

Many churches over the last generation or so have adopted an "attractional model." In other words, offer enough programs or special services or cool teaching (or teachers) or hip worship, and people will come into your church. Once you've got them there, you just keep offering those things enough because you have to keep the people there. This is ESPECIALLY true in a place like Nashville where churches are like lobbyists in Washington; you can't swing a dead rat without hitting one. If you don't offer someone what they like, they'll just go somewhere else. So, following the title of this post, if you offer someone a great children's program and then children's program changes or goes away, then they just leave or stay and complain about it.

The focus then needs to become in our congregations, not the attractional model, but the missional model. I've talked before about how "missional church" or "missional Christian" should be absolute redundancies, but the sad fact of the matter is that our congregations have become more like affinity-based social clubs, rather than organizations with the mission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28. What we have to be clear about is the purpose we are here for. We are to be a blessing to the world, recalling God's call to Abraham in Genesis 12. We are to work with God in bringing His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, creating disciples of Jesus not simply admirers of him or adherents to some beliefs about him.

The challenge comes in working within an existing church to do this. I think Otter Creek is starting down this road. You can listen to some of the recent Sunday sermons (last week's Purpose of Membership, specifically) and hear a greater calling to discipleship, that our elders will be asking us the questions about our discipleship walk. Undoubtably, there have been people who have come to Otter Creek for our children's programs and/or our worship and/or whatever else (not being like other Churches of Christ). I hope those people will join with the elders and other members in this push toward greater discipleship (even though statistics apparently show that churches that begin this kind of transition from attractional to missional/discipleship focused lose 50-70% of their attendance).

I firmly believe that a congregation that devotes itself whole-heartedly to following Jesus could make a change in its community. I pray God gives me the strength and perseverance and patience to walk through this with my brothers and sisters, and that Otter Creek can be a place where disciples of Jesus are formed and matured and grow in the faith with a mind toward Jesus and a heart for the world.


Jeff said...

Phil, as a reformed CoC'er, I will be the first to admit that the initial attraction to OC is what you have said - it provides something (worship, children's ministry, different speaking from the pulpit, instruments occassionally (gasp!)) that we had not experienced and begins to move us from seeing church as something you went to three times a week, to a community of believers that spoke of grace, spirit, worship, etc.

However, I agree that there is a time to move to being more missional, and more than just having a door knocking campaign and handing out flyers. Let me give a picture of what I think that might look like:

I interned for two summers in the youth ministry at North Atlanta Church of Christ, one of the larger CoC's in the area, about 1500 members. It is pretty comparable to Otter Creek - in an affluent neighborhood, had great programs, was progressive as a church of Christ goes, etc. The last summer I was there, Don McLaughlin, who has become a pretty popular speaker in the CoC circuit, came on as the pulpit minister. I never really got to work with him, but I remember his focus coming in was to develop a mission for the NA church to impact Atlanta and reach out to as many people as possible and spread the good news about Jesus.

Several years later, we went back to NA, and two things had happened that stuck out in my mind. First, they planted a church further north of town in a fast growing area that had a need for a local congregation. That church grew rapidly. Second, and to me most amazing, was they started reaching out and bussing in lower income, inner city, and mostly black people into their almost all-white church. They developed programs where men from the church became mentors to drug addicts, people coming out of prison, and people just plain not knowing who Jesus was. I can tell you that the dynamic of the church changed when it became mixed with white and black, rich and poor people that came and worshipped and prayed for each other (they probably average 15-20 people that come forward for prayers every Sunday). It was amazing to see, and I've thought many times that is what we could be at OC. I think they did lose some of their membership when they did all of this, but I think that's an acceptable price to pay in trying to bring about the kingdom.

Phil said...

And Jeff, I'm not say that you don't offer those things. I think they are important services and ministries we can offer people, but I do think that the primary message that people hear are about mission and discipleship.

And maybe those other things are offered in the context of mission and discipleship. But I think the other two have to be the most important in the life of a church. Otherwise it becomes an "affinity based social club."

gavin richardson said...

i was going to email you about the exact phrasing of that quote. thanks for blogging on it. should post it to the cohort blog too

Phil said...

Gsvin, interestingly Brian McLaren uses very similar language in the Missional chapter of Generous Orthodoxy, which I'm going to be stealing from for my Sunday class.

Anonymous said...


So in what context would you do mission and discipleship? It seems to me what Jeff described was pretty missional.

Phil said...

That's true to an extent. My problem with it is that it's church focused. We need to think outside the church walls.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading a lot of blogs the last few weeks about emergent "conversations",missional churches,, etc., stc. The trouble with it, as I see it, is that I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about. Also, when did preachers of the COFC become known as "pastors?" When did all these "buzz" words develop?

I, personally, am getting a little sick and tired of "praise teams" I love good congregational singing, led by one good leader. I'm not saying it's wrong, just not as beautiful and uplifting as the latter. Just wanted to vent a little.

Justin said...

its easy to vent anonymously isn't it?

Phil, don't feed the trolls.

I think that its great that OC is trending this way. I've missed being there this summer, but I will be back in full force sunday morning (without holy, I mean holey jeans though). I'm trying to convince Carrie to go to your class since she's riding up with me and I"m on praise team. She doesn't want to go by herself. Anyway, I think I can convince her.

Even if OC loses members over this, God will use whatever numbers we have to accomplish his goals. He can use whatever we give him. We just have to be prayerful and ask him to open our eyes to whatever He wants us to see.

See ya Sunday!

Phil said...

I don't feed trolls, but I also don't mind conversing with people who read my blog.

Anonymous, for information on Emergent and missional thinking, this post might help some.

As to your other comments, I don't think I've ever referred to a preacher as a pastor. Do I think a preacher can be a pastor? Sure, but it's not always so. Some can be and are gifted in that way, and some are gifted only in teaching and not pastorally.

And praise teams? Personal preference. I understand why some people don't like them and some do. The decision someone who doesn't like them and goes to church where they use praise teams is whether that is something worth breaking fellowship over or learn to live in community despite differences.

btw, Justin, tell Carrie to come. I won't call her out in class or anything, but definitely have her introduce herself to me. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

Kenneth & Victoria said...

Hey, anonymous,

One thing all these missional thinkers are trying to get across is that the praise and worship is for God, not you! All kinds and styles sound beautiful to HIM!!! Try to concentrate on worshipping God instead of finding things to vent about and see whether you might like it better.

Phil--we love reading your blog. Even though we don't comment very often you give us something to think about nearly every day. (On other days we take a break from thinking.)

Tony Arnold said...

May we always remember that the Church exists to lead men to Christ in many and varied ways, but it is always the same Christ.

From a plaque at a path entrance to statues of scenes from the Garden of Gethsemane located at Gethsemani Abbey. The statues were donated in memory of Jonathon M Daniel. Episcopal seminarian martyred in Alabama Aug. 20, 1965. Donated to the Monastery by William Coolidge of Boston, MA. Walker Hancock sculptor.

Jonathon Daniel was a young seminarian who traveled to Alabama during the civil rights movement to help black register to vote. Witnessing an escalating argument between a young black woman and a law enforcement officer who raised his weapon to shoot, he stepped in and took the bullet for her.


Darin L. Hamm said...

Find out what works in your area and do it. Find out how God is working and embrace it.

Let’s be honest, what happens in Portland, Oregon, a very unchurched city versus Nashville, a churched to the nth degree, may look a lot different.

I think you are starting a good discussion but it would seem that Otter Creek will not fail or succeed based on its ability to copy either an attractional or missional church, but will succeed when it becomes what God has called it to be.

I do know how you feel about moving people from a what do you have for my family attitude towards what impact can we make for the kingdom. We had lunch with a visiting couple this past Sunday. They asked a lot of questions about what we had to offer and I told them about our outwardly focused ministries. I could see the eyes glazing over when I talked about impacting our community and our focus not being on services for our members but service for our community.

I suppose you would probably not think much of what we are doing because we don’t fit the definition given for a missional church.

Phil said...

Darin, I'll be honest. Your post made a lot of sense to me, right up until the last sentence. It seemed like we were on the same page, but then there was that curveball at the end.

Can you explain why you think I wouldn't "think much of" you? Thanks.

Darin L. Hamm said...


Jeff began the thread by telling a story about a church in Atlanta and its impact with different people. You said your problem with it was that it was church focused.

I understand your point but it seems you are trying to just fill another box in saying we should be thinking outside the box. The box you want filled is the missional church one.

I’m not saying it is wrong to want to be a missional church but that is just another paradigm, different than the attractional, but a paradigm none the less.

So my point was our church is committed to being the hands and feet of Jesus in our community but the people still come to our building for this so I assumed your response would be the same as it was to the church in Atlanta.

I may have poorly worded that and I certainly didn’t drop into your blog to drop a bomb and leave. I read the heart of someone who wants to make a difference and I applaud that.

Phil said...

OK, I got where you're coming from, Darin, and I don't deny the paradigm at all.

Again, I don't disagree that great things can happen through a local congregation, but I do think that by necessity the members of that congregation have to think outside the walls of it, as well.

TCS said...

man, some people have got your back, even when its not needed!

Probably will see you Sunday.

Darin L. Hamm said...

Agreed, and it is hard because some people do church to get not give.

Paul E. Ward said...

I stumbled across your blog tonight and found it interesting. We're placing our daughter in Lipscomb CS this fall. She has been at another private school in the area. Since I'm baptist, I wanted to get a feel for the spiritual tempature of COC'ers in the area.

The same true realities you are discussing here are evident in SBC churches today as well.

You truthfully state it is just so easy for people to jump around to another lily pad when it looks better (programs, entertainment, etc.)

I grew up a preacher's kid and can understand the difficulties in the ministry. I must state my observation that in too many cases church leadership is also guilty of pad hopping when things aren't going well or they've stirred the congregations comfort levels!

God does not always call to "go". Sometimes he calls to "stay". As the post by Jeff states, it's when we're outward focused and not inward focused we begin to impact the kingdom. Would to God more churches were following that Atlanta model!

My mother always told us "Jesus, Others and You" is the only way to spell JOY!

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro