I had an interesting discussion this week with a College student questioning why it is that some congregation members can't wait for Sunday to come around and to invite friends to join them while others roll out of bed on Sunday with slouching shoulders thinking "here we go yet again".
We can put names to members of each group and there are many complex reasons as to why people respond as they do, but they fall into two main categories: personality and communal.
By personality I mean the way people are wired. Some people are by nature pessimists and others optimists. Some are excited, others roll with the punches.
By communal I mean the experience of knowing God in the gospel and the experience of living that with other believers.
In this post, I want to think a bit about the communal aspect of our lives.
Attractional and missional
It is common to assess church services under the categories as either ‘attractional’ or ‘missional’.
Attractional gatherings, it is said, aim to be so good that people will want to attend. They will be relevant and not be boring. There will be great singing, preaching, warmth of relationship and organisation. The experience will be better than any other and people will be drawn to join. The focus is on the gathering.
By ‘missional’ gatherings, people mean that the people of God are so gripped by the gospel that they will spend their lives focused on proclaiming and reaching those not already in the group. Their eye is always to the outsider and making contact with them.
Having described the two categories we then berate ourselves for our failures. Our church meetings and events just aren't as attractive as what the rest of the world can offer. And in our missional endevours we just don't know how to engage other people, or think that other members of our congregation do this task, or we are embarrassed by our own experience of our gatherings that we don't want to ask others to join us.
Should we be attractional or missional?
For a number of reasons it worries me that when we are confronted with the reality of our shortcomings we either move further down the attractional pathway or further down the missional pathway.
Firstly, I am not even sure that these categories are the correct categories. Both are outcome-based and so may distract from the central issue of our identity. That is what we are in terms of our character and convictions.
Secondly, and more importantly, the two categories should not be in opposition and alternatives to each other. Attractive gatherings are both pleasurable and profitable. Pleasurable means they will be joyous to attend, but also that there is a warmth of relationship. Profitable means that we will hear God as He makes Himself known in His Word, through the preacher and the private conversations. The content of our words will not be trivial. The implication is that our event must be infused with a missional way of thinking.
And as congregation members we will be missionally inviting people to join us if our event is attractive: if we are convinced that it is here our friends will meet God in His Word and through His people. And our meetings will only be attractive if we are missionally gripped by the gospel.
So by all means work at making the event of our meeting attractive, and work at calling us to mission in the circle of contacts we have, but don't forsake one merely for the other.