Backyard Missionary: Incarnational V Attractional Ministry

Andrew Hamilton has an excellent post on the difference between incarnational and attractional ministry. As readers of this blog know, I am increasingly interested in the relationship between the incarnation of Christ and the translation of the Bible. In the incarnation, God took the initiative to reveal himself to humanity; Bible translation is a reflection or a continuation of God’s communication to his creation. Writing for an Autralian audience, Hamilton looks at how the church should be incarnational; actively taking God into the community rather than attractional; sitting back and waiting for people to come to it.

If Jesus were alive today and his mission was still to ‘seek out and save the lost’ what might he do?… Would he hire a building, set up a sound system, develop a music team, drama team, and then do local letterbox drops advising people that they could come and be part of his church on Sunday? Frankly I don’t believe this approach to mission would rate a blip on his strategic radar. The so called ‘attractional’ mode of mission centres its focus on the church service and is dedicated to producing an event that pagans will want to come to. The theory goes that the more professional the service is, the funkier the music, the better the coffee, and so on… the more likely the punters will come, hence the term ‘attractional’. As such the success of mission in this mode is almost always measured by the number who attend on Sunday…

I would argue that this ‘attractional mission’, while effective for a few, is actually a case of putting the cart before the horse. Deciding on a form of church and then trying to make it so that people want to come is mission in reverse. There is a growing awareness that pagan Aussies do not want to come to church and simply making the Sunday event more attractive is not the answer to this problem…

Read the whole post.

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5 replies on “Backyard Missionary: Incarnational V Attractional Ministry”

Interesting. From your extract above I already realised that Hamilton has Hillsong in his sights – confirmed by the full post. I happened to be at Hillsong in London on Sunday, for the first time, and (apart from coffee, none was offered) the above could well have been a description of it.

But where this description is inaccurate is the words “effective for a few”. There were not a few at this service, there were thousands, at one of four services in the day. This must be one of the largest churches in the UK, and has grown from nothing in just a few years. Some like me were visitors from other churches, but undoubtedly many would otherwise not go to any church or hear the gospel preached in any way. And, although the main message was not specifically evangelistic, probably hundreds responded to the appeal to give their lives to Christ.

The message, from Brian Houston who is the senior pastor of Hillsong in Australia, was in fact that churches should not compare themselves with one another. They should rejoice at others’ success, not their failure, and mourn at their failure, not their success. I hope that it is not jealousy of Hillsong’s success which motivates Hamilton’s comments on its attractional model, and his reluctance to acknowledge this success.

Hamilton puts forward a great alternative incarnational model for the church. And this is more the model for my own home church. Maybe it will bear more fruit in the long term. “By their fruits you will know them”. Both models seem to work, in different environments and with different people. And there is no shortage of unsaved people out there for churches to fight over. So let’s use both approaches!

Hi Peter,

I must admit that I’m not very au fait with Hillsong, so I can’t comment on the specifics of the issue (though ‘no coffee’ sounds a little worrying for an addict like me 🙂 ).

I would want to unpack the idea of churches not comparing themselves with one another a little further. I think if we are talking about the sort of jealous ‘our congregation is bigger than yours’ or ‘our worship is really dull compared to yours’ sorts of things you are right. However, I think there is a healthy comparison which involves learning good ideas and best practice which should be encouraged.

Again, I can’t comment on the specifics of different churches, but my experience (and I underline that it is subjective) is that churches are not incarnational enough. Too much emphasis is placed on getting people in through the doors rather than getting believers out into the streets (if that isn’t pushing a metaphor too far). It seems to me that the whole emergent thing has a lot to offer those of us from a more traditional background when it comes to ideas for reaching our communities.

I’m sure that no single answer will fit every situation, but I’m concerned that in the circles I move in, some major answers don’t seem to be being considered.

Eddie, I agree with your response, and that there is often too much emphasis on getting people in rather than reaching out. My church tries to do both, which is partly why last night I was sitting in a freezing bus helping with outreach to the youth of the worst estate in our area.

Just a defense of Andrew Hamilton

Hillsong is on the other side of a continent from Perth where Hamo lives. Yeah they have a big shadow but really other than there music have no real influence of what happens in Hamos context. More power to them if they continue to succeed but they are not the only wat and Australia is far more complex to rely on one style of church/mission.

Hamo has left what many would call a successful ministry to be a missionary in suburbia…

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the comment. There is no need to defend Hamo in my book (well, apart from his being an Aussie, that is). I’ve never met the bloke, but I very much appreciate how he writes and communicates about the Gospel. Backyard Missionary is one of my ‘must reads’.

Having been a missionary in someone else’s backyard for many years, I have nothing but admiration for people who take mission at home as seriously as Hamo does.

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