The Liturgical Gangstas 2: Attractional, Missional or Sacramental?

Welcome to “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: Three words are coming up frequently in discussions about the church:

Sacramental: Think Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican. God gives sacraments. The church distributes them as the center of Christian experience and the church’s mission.
Attractional: Think the Evangelical MegaChurch. Kickin’ band. Lots of technology to fill the pews with an “audience” to hear the Gospel.
Missional: Equipping believers to go away from the “Building,” into the culture to participate in the mission of God as they find it in their culture: mercy ministries, justice and peacemaking, working with the poor, just being present in the world as servants and witnesses.

These are three good words. All of you would use them in some way. (Well….Baptists can’t spell sacramental, but still…)

What is the way to go to be the church Jesus is building: Sacramental, Attractional or Missional? And in what mixture? For what reasons?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox:In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, the Pevensy children, after their death, are heading to Aslan’s country and have an odd realization. Though they have crossed out of Narnia, they find themselves in a Narnia which is more real than the Narnia in which they lived. It is Narnia, but more so. The professor, Lord Digory, then says:

“Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. . . . And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

Lewis catches here something of our approach to worship. In worship we ascend to the heavens, and in our worship we image here on earth the worship of heaven itself. We do realize that, “it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow.” But, it is a true shadow. It is in this context that we approach both the Mysteries (Sacraments) and the concept of Attractional. In other words, we are frankly and openly mystics and mystical. St. Paul says that the Church itself is a Mystery. We are the Mystery of God’s presence in this world. We are both the Body of Christ and sinners. In the same way worship is a mystery because we are both with God, participating in the heavenly worship, and yet here on earth. And finally, in the Mystery of the Eucharist we receive the strength and sustenance we need in order to continue walking with Him and in Him. It is bread and wine; it is Body and Blood. For us the house of God is like what Lucy Pevensie said near the end of The Last Battle, “‘I see,’ she said at last, thoughtfully. ‘I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.'” We see our worship as being far bigger inside than outside. We are not “sacramental” because the Church ought to be “sacramental.” We are “sacramental” because it is the only reality.

Because we look to image the heavenlies, we use incense (as in the Book of Revelation); we use vestments; we use liturgy. When we speak of a worship that attracts, we mean both a worship that attracts because an attender can sense the presence of heaven and also a worship that attracts because of its mystical beauty.

Finally, yes, the Church is called to be missional. Sadly, the Orthodox Church in the USA has had the problem of becoming something like an ethnic club in the last 100 years. But, in its history, the Orthodox Church was missional both in the sense of evangelism and various social outreach ministries. I would remind the readers that the “tail” of the State of Alaska is the point of farthest Russian Orthodox advance. The first Orthodox missionaries arrived in Alaska in 1794, and they were renowned not only for evangelism, but also for their strong advocacy in favor of the Inuit against the Russian merchants. But, as in the book, we must go in, in order to go out. For the Church to grow in this country, the people in this country need to see two things. First, they need to see a people whose worship is heaven on earth. Second, they need to see a people who can bring the practical love, grace, mercy, and justice of God to earth in practical ways. Third, they need to see a people who do the above and then HEAR a people who explain to them what they are seeing in terms of the gospel, as St. Peter did in the Book of Acts when he spoke about the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Joel and promptly led several thousand to faith in Christ and Holy Baptism.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: My first response is to look at Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:7-8 where going out is the first standing order from Jesus to the disciples. Combining both of these passages creates a remix that reads, “Go and be my witnesses to the entire world and, as people believe, make disciples of them by baptizing and teaching.” This is what I mean when I talk to the people in my church about the church being missional. There is a “going” component that cannot be ignored and in looking at the ministry of Jesus it becomes clear that works of compassion as well as proclamation are central to his ministry and it ought to be ours.

The path I am following as a United Methodist pastor is definitely missional but that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t attractional aspects or sacramental aspects to this mission. My main concern is that people are attracted to Jesus and not a worship band, a Bible study, or me. I find a deep rooted consumer mentality in some attractional methods and I’ve experienced enough of the attractional model to know that it isn’t how I see Jesus or the church operating in the New Testament. I don’t see Jesus sending out flyers or door hangers inviting people to come to his synagogue, but rather as Jesus goes out people are attracted to him. The kind of attraction I would like to see in a missional focus is the kind of attraction to Jesus that causes a man or a woman to deny self, take up that cross, and follow Jesus.

According to Matthew’s gospel, people who become disciples are going to get the sacraments (at least baptism) which leads me to think that Jesus’ way of building the church isn’t primarily sacramental but the sacraments certainly play a role in the ministry the church is to have. As has already been shown, Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize new disciples. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23 that his teaching on the Lord’s Supper was received from the Lord. Disicples are to take the Supper regularly as a part of their worship and discipleship.

You ask about “the church Jesus is building” and I’m writing on the assumption that building the church is an ongoing affair in which the calling of sinners to repentant faith in Jesus Christ is at the center. If I were going to plan to build the Church based upon what I know of Jesus in the New Testament, the logical order is a mission outside of a church building through which people are attracted to Jesus and begin to worship with the followers of Jesus and, hopefully, become disciples through the teaching of the church and the sacraments.

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: Peter was not available for this round of gangsta-ism.

Maybe someone ordered a hit after last week!

He’ll return next time.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: Hmmm – interesting question. That other one was easier. 🙂 First, I think I’d change the first “model” to “Liturgical/Sacramental.” You can likely believe in the efficaciousness of Sacraments and still behave in an attractional way as a local church, as well as missionally. The way you “run yourself” as a church isn’t “Sacramental” – it’s Liturgical. Sacramental is a base belief system underlying a structure. Liturgy is the structure. It’s a structure with particular content, yes, but it is the work, the stuff we do as the church.

I’m sure that was sufficiently confusing. But on we go. I have to try to deal with the question as-stated as much as I can. I believe the liturgical way is the way to go (underpinned by the Sacraments). That’s probably not going to surprise anyone. I have talked a lot in the past about the liturgy as skeleton for our churches. I talked about it as much when I was stirring around in the emerging church world as now. We need a skeletal structure. Skeletons are organic – liturgy is organic. Life is built that way. Living things have rhythm. We breath, our hearts beat, we reproduce, etc., etc. – all inside of a rhythm of life. So, I believe it’s a very healthy thing to live and move inside of a liturgical rhythm as the church, as a church. And a rhythm that is grounded in what the Church has always done and believed, and that includes at least some sort of Sacramental theology running through it.

I don’t see a lot of positive in the Attractional model. I understand what’s supposed to be going on. I’ve been around it enough and in it a little. I don’t believe this is how the church was designed to work – as aimed toward those outside. I mean mostly (and this is kind of where “attractional” lives) when we gather as the church to do whatever it is we do. When we do this, it is not entertainment. It is not a show. It is not FOR making ourselves palatable to those who are not of our number yet. It is for us. It is aimed at God from us, and at us from God, and also from us to us. It is for us to constantly be reminded and in very real and tangible ways, and to be built into who and what we were created to be. This gathering time is not the only way we are built up into the full stature of Christ, but it is a central way. So, if we gear ourselves and our worship toward attracting people to come in, we lose what the worship is for, primarily.

Missional – that word, has always been confusing to me. It’s very much a catch-word right now in some circles. What does it mean? I know what Michael said in the intro. These things, to me, are a natural part of who and what the Church is – the Missio Dei. First we “be” and out of that, we “do.” And of course, we’re constantly in the process of becoming more of who He created us to BE. So, certainly we should have some focus on doing Kingdom work, whatever that may be. What sometimes seems to happen, though, in situations where this is a focus is that it becomes an activism which takes the place of the transformation of the Christian person, as if this was our only purpose or goal – to do good works, or even evangelism. We should be doing both these things, but as that which flows out of the growing Life of God within us.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: At the risk of sounding contrary, I want to suggest another name: “incarnational.” This would parallel, somewhat, “missional.” But by “incarnational” I mean that the church ought to show in radical ways that sharply contrast with the prevalent social models in our culture its embodiment of the purpose and work of Christ. The watching world ought to look at the church and see the continuation of the Kingdom life that was revealed most gloriously in Jesus.

It is the antithesis of attractional, as it’s been defined here. The attractional model has sold its soul for a place at the table of culture only to find out that it is perpetually ten minutes late. A Roman Catholic friend told me once that when he left the attractional church and entered into a communion that was infused with the flow of historic liturgy that only then did he “realize how exhausting the constant pursuit of novelty was.” The attractional model will inevitably have to keep raising the stakes on what attracts most, which in many cases will end up being sex. (So challenging your people to seven days of sex was simply inevitable. Eventually the attractional church will be calling on the attractive members to do it on the platform during the offering. Ecclesiporn, or something like that.)

What I like about an incarnational model is that it will encompass the great strenghts of the sacramental and missional models. For the sacraments draw us into the person and work of Christ (as we Baptists seem to have forgotten). The missional model is, I believe, a glorious example of status quo institutional iconoclasm and an infusion of energy into the stagnant church, and so it is to be celebrated insofar as it draws us into incarnational ministry in our particular context and day.

Finally, an incarnational model strikes at the roots of the altars of the great gods of American Evangelicalism: raw mass and material comfort. In the economy of the Kingdom, the widow with her mite is the richest person in the room, the small congregation that is truly loving and winning its community is the largest church in the world, and the humble, unknown, never-invited-to-speak-at-a-conference pastor who stands in honesty before God and His people is truly the “celebrity” pastor. How nice it would be to see these kind of values incarnated today in the church. Only then will we become what Christ has called his church to be.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: First, I would like to see a general moratorium on the turning of nouns into trendy adjectives by tacking on an “-al” to the end and to all the paperback books that promote this linguistic larceny. It may beat the hyphenated nouns of the 70’s but not by much.

“Sacramental” at least has sturdy historic roots, and is the one closest to my Lutheran heart. It rides along with “incarnational,” reminding us that God always deals with us through creaturely means since “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.”

For Lutherans a sacrament is a tangible sign that reveals and delivers the promise of God’s undeserved kindness toward the sinner for Christ’s sake. It is how God is present to us and deals with us. Through Holy Baptism, the Holy Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood, and the proclaimed Word of the Gospel the sinner is declared righteous before God for Jesus’ sake and the gifts Christ won for all are applied personally. As works of God, the sacraments make the Church visible and audible; they are the divine marks of recognition of the mystical Body of Christ. For a Lutheran, no sacraments means no discernible Church or Christ, so it simply goes without saying that the Church is “sacramental.”

“Missional” (formerly mission-oriented or mission-minded), has a decent basis in the priesthood of the baptized, though as a term it is suffering major overuse at the hands of synodical bureaucrats. The Church is ever restless to proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed, wherever her priestly people are scattered in their various vocations. This is not to the exclusion of being“sacramental” but is its flip side. You might say that the Church gathered is “sacramental” while the Church scattered is “missional.”

“Attractional” sounds like a bait and switch variety of entertainment evangelism to my Lutheran ears and messes with my spell checker. Lure ‘em in with kickin’ bands, tech, and praise babes, and maybe you can give them what they need down the road. But will the Son of Man find faith upon the earth as we amuse each other to death?

The Greeks of Paul’s day demanded wisdom and persuasive rhetoric, the Jews demanded miracles. Yet Paul stubbornly preached Christ crucified, which nobody wanted. I seriously doubt that the Church will be “attractional” to an unrepentant sinner any more than an AA meeting would be attractive to someone who doesn’t think he has a drinking problem. Dying and rising is not a terribly attractive proposition to our old adamic flesh, even if the end result is eternal life. Disneyland is quite “attractional,” but MIckey Mouse can’t raise you from the dead.

St. Paul put it this way: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor 4:2)

What is genuinely “attractive” of the Church are the good news of salvation in Jesus and the life of Christ at work in the lives of baptized believers. It seems to me to be a profound loss of trust in the power of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit when we feel compelled to turn the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation into an entertainment event.

Give me a gathered Church that is sacramental, and a scattered Church that is missional. I’ll leave the attractional part to God (John 6:44).

39 thoughts on “The Liturgical Gangstas 2: Attractional, Missional or Sacramental?

  1. Perhaps the three types can be reconciled. As a Catholic I can see Sunday Mass suplemented by Wednesday (or Sunday evening) prayer meetings. The three models don’t have to be in conflict. They can be levels.

    But an attractional “seeker-friendly” service by itself can be just all milk and no meat.


  2. “I don’t know if this falls under the category of attractional or missional…”

    I suppose it depends how you define the categories. New church sign, fresh coat of paint, good architecture, sound worship practice, adequate lighting, decent parking etc. are all important at a superficial level. Mostly common sense, but also non-necessary. Let a few years of economic depression sink in and throw in a little religious persecution, and people won’t care if the sign is dusty.

    There is just something creepy about “attractional” that I simply can’t embrace. I’ll stick with Michael’s description of “kickin’ band and tech.” That may be attractive to some, but not to those who worship in my congregation. Most have fled this. That’s part of the problem – is the Gospel something to be “marketed” to target groups like underarm deodorant and running shoes?

    Yeah, we use “tech” in form of microphones and a decent digital recorder, but we prefer our tech to be heard, not seen. Same with our musicians. And we’ll take a killer organ over a kickin’ band any Sunday, though I have no problem with “bands” and other creative instrumentation, so long as the hymns they produce are capable of doing the heavy lifting of corporate singing with content.

    As Michael says, “Time will tell.”


  3. Wyman and William,

    Thank you for your gentle responses.

    William. Your follow up comment was interesting. We just had a church evangelism committee meeting this afternoon. Comments were made about our dilapidated church sign. I made the comment that from the outside of our building there was not much to indicate that some exciting stuff was going on inside. There is some really good stuff happening at our church, baptisms, relationship building, meaningful worship. It is a healthy growing congregation. Yet we are doing so little to let the rest of our community know about it. I don’t know if this falls under the category of attractional or missional, but we need to be doing something that lets the community know that they are missing out on something big.

    Wyman, I read your comment again in context, and I must admit that I reacted more to the word that the context. Though I also must admit that I don’t like slippery slope arguments, and taking things to the extreme to make the point.

    On the other hand I totally agree with you that “sincere” by itself is not enough. The question is, where do you draw the line. Michael Spencer I think does a good job at drawing the line at Joel Osteen, Todd Bennett, Seven days of Sex, or the Family Research Council. There is an awful lot of room inside those extremes to be practicing our Christianity. Some/many are going to be sincere but misguided. I will probably be found among them at times. A small church I know close by to here spent $250,000 on their sound and video systems. Attactional absolutely. But it is matched with sound Biblical teaching, high church involvement in small groups, and every month they are seeing new converts and baptisms. Misguided or visionary? Time will certainly tell.


  4. Michael [Bell],

    I was applying the term “ecclesiporn” to certain aberrant manifestations of “attractional” (i.e., people having sex on the platform) certainly not to all. My apologies if I painted with too broad a brush. I was hoping the context of that word would qualify it a bit. The church I pastor has and attempts certain “attractional” elements.

    That being said, though, I do think there’s dangerous ground there when we start justifying whatever on the basis that the person doing said whatever is “sincere.” (I’m not suggesting that you would justify anything with this, just that it seems to be a common idea. “Sincere” = “right”.)




  5. “Let us not fall into the trap of having to demean what others are doing in order to justify what we are doing.”

    Point well taken, Michael! I agree that was a cheap rhetorical shot. (I’ve tried to give up snarkiness as part of my Advent fast, but old Lutheran habits die hard – simul justus et peccator as we say). I should have stuck with IM’s original definition of “kickin’ bands and lots of technology” and left it at that. My sincere apologies to worship leaders everywhere.

    I still think the “attractional” belongs to God, or specifically in the verse I cited, God the Father. Of course we all want to attract people to our churches to hear the Gospel, or at least not drive them away. The question I have is whether a church that intentionally sets out to attract an audience hasn’t already gotten off on the wrong foot.

    I can find no evidence in Scripture or church history where putting on a good show was understood as part of the mandate to disciple the nations. In fact, the apostle Paul indicates that the power of the cross is hidden under weakness. Or as Isaiah says of Christ, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Is. 53:2)


  6. “Ecclesiporn”???
    “Praise Babes”???

    As a worship leader in a number of different churches that have tried to be somewhat attractional, my only qualifications for worship team members have been an ability to sing, and having a heart that wants to worship.

    Throwing out terms like this to apply to people who are sincerely trying to reach others for Jesus Christ is offensive, insulting, and demeaning.

    As can be seen in the original post and the many comments their are very good reasons to support liturgical/sacremental, missional, and attractional styles of ministry. Let us not fall into the trap of having to demean what others are doing in order to justify what we are doing.

    If you are interested in reading more about why I feel so strongly about this, I have discussed this in greater depth at Eclectic Christian.


  7. Of all the people in the world, Bill Cwirla keeps me wondering if someday I shouldn’t become a Lutheran. Brother, that was great! What a blessing.

    BTW, that “praise babes” line cracked me up. Kinda like the “anchor babes” on Fox News.


  8. Bob,

    I have always thought that many churches considered ‘attractional’ provide an “easy on ramp”
    to the Christian Faith. However, the problem becomes when the whole service becomes a ‘sales pitch’ to attract unbelievers. I don’t think any of the Gangsta’s are against doing church in a winsome way, or wish to run the service in such away that deliberately turns off outsiders.
    My father-in-law attended one of the premier mega churches in the country, located in SoCal. Half a dozen or more worship services on the weekend in four or five different venues depending on nyou preference of worship styles (Country Western, Hawaiian, Rock and roll etc.) with the sermon digitally pumped in from the main venue. He was part of the video crew. Along with many members of the “core” membership, the high point of his week was the mid-week service, designed to disciple the committed members. They had a time of worship and prayer followed by in depth Bible teaching. The service was regularly attended by 1200 to 1500 people. He liked it because it was geared to believers and had some substance to it. The church cancelled the service. When I called the church and (FINALLY)got hold of a pastor, I was told that because less than 10% of the church attended that service, it wasn’t worth “firing up the building” (lights, air conditioning,sound and video crews) for it, so they discontinued it.

    Where does the New Testament authorize the use of the worship service as the the main means of evangelism? Since when do the Scriptures advocate polling the general populace to determine what the worship of the church will be like?( Which is how the church described above got it’s start) A lot of churches drink the kool-aid of seeker sensitivity to the point that they compromise the gospel and worship for it.


  9. Giving it a little more thought, I agree with those commenting that attractional gets a bad rap. I think back to the Book of Revelation and the contrast between the whore and the bride. The whore is extravagant, alluring and tantalizing; the bride is holy, beautiful, and attractive. The problem is that the church has sold out so much to the culture that it doesn’t know the difference between attractive and “sexy”; between being a whore and a bride.

    A sacrament is holy act. If we can return to a biblical view of beauty, then suddenly the sacred fits in perfectly like a puzzle piece. Sacredness is attractive; it is beautiful.

    I think missional fits in equally well. From my understanding, the word “mass” comes from a latin phrase meaning “to depart”. What we receive from the sacred is taken to our homes, our jobs, our schools, our recreation, our civil duties. The sacred is directed outward. A mission is not bringing the world in but equipping and sending the missionaries out into the world (check out today’s gospel reading – Matthew 9:35 – 10:1, 5, 6-8). When that gets reversed – changing the goal to bring the world in – it is no wonder that there is no room for the sacred; that the lost are not being reached; that word and sacrament are replaced with “ecclesiporn”.


  10. Attractional is level one (non-christian), Sacramental is level two (growing as a Christian), and Missional is level three (transformed to Christ-likeness). Everything leads to Missional..true Missional..from the heart..because of Love….and for the sake of Love…His unearthly Love. Love never faileth. Love is kind. Love lifts. Love puts the needs of others first. Love sees only the good. Love is real. And and Real encounter with the real Love of God in Christ is always l i f e c h a n g i n g ! !

    “When Zion travails…suns and daughters will be born.”

    When we, individually, get real as the Temple of God…we can no longer be content to hear, hear, hear….but we will be urgently compelled to go, go, go and serve, serve, serve!!!


  11. I like the term “attractional” for what seems to be going on in a lot of churches, which to me appears to be confusing working to draw people in with giving them what they want – and it is assumed that what they want is simpler, stripped down (get rid of all that old-fashioned prayers and devotions and hymnody!), yet at the same time novel, exciting, and emotionally appealing (play them twenty-years out of date copies of pop songs, have them clapping and hugging, tell stories and jokes instead of preaching a homily).

    From an RC point of view, I think we suffered from this view of “attractional” in the liturgy; you know the joke “When God saw the Church was no longer suffering persecutions, He sent liturgists instead”?


  12. When I left the catholic church and became “born again” the last thing I ever thought I would find value in was sacraments or liturgy. Being in an evangelical/charismatic setting taught me that if it wasn’t new and exciting then God probably wasn’t moving. Several years went by and my own conflict with faith certainly had me open to new ideas. That was when our pastor had his methodist friend come and give a service, which was liturgical. I can still remember how uptight and lost many people seemed. Having had this in my catholic youth certainly allowed me to be at ease with the style but what surprised me was that I actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t until several years later when I finally took that huge step of going back to a Mass that I found all to be right with the world again. By this time I was prepared to fully embrace it because I came to believe it was right and good, but I was this time surprised that I not only enjoyed it but was amazed at how complete it was. I’m sure that other Liturgical churches would say the same too. I was amazed at the amount of scripture and prayer, the art (visually teaching), the participation. I suppose I missed all this because in my early years I was too familiar with it, but after convincing myself that the old ways were boring and outdated and that my new church was on the cutting edge I really left myself with no option but to be amazed.


  13. Attractional simply means that the members of the congregation would want to invite friends who are not believers to attend, and that the witness there would be clear and powerful.

    I’ve never been to a good worship service that I wouldn’t have loved to have an unbelieving loved one present.

    Any healthy expression of worship should be attractional to those who the Spirit is calling to faith. I believe unbelievers being present keep believers, including preachers, more honest, and more healthy. Attractional gets a bad rap. 1 Corinthians 14 has Paul even limiting genuine expressions of Holy Spirit prompted speaking in order to accomodate the unbelievers who are present. That’s pretty radical accomodation, and I think it challenges the “us four, no more, close the door”-approach. 1 Corinthians 14 requires us to think about the unbeliever, and to make sure that our corporate worship is a witness.

    So, yeah, I guess I’m saying that if your worship isn’t attractional, it’s just not sufficiently Biblical.


  14. “Give me a gathered Church that is sacramental, and a scattered Church that is missional. I’ll leave the attractional part to God”


    Can’t help but wonder, though……would our sacramental/liturgical churches be more attractional AND more effectively missional if we were more open to the true charisms? I’m not talking gold dust and angel sightings, here – I’m talking about fearlessly being empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc.

    I don’t believe we need churches that are either/or……I believe we need churches that are wholeheartedly sacramental/liturgical, wholeheartedly evangelical, wholeheartedly charismatic, wholeheartedly missional – all these frameworks working to both balance and potentiate each other!


  15. +Alan wow that was great, it preatty much sums up what is going on in the Church right now.

    Fr. Ernesto like always great insight.


  16. “William, speaking of church lingo, in the Episcopal Church “missional” meant anything you did in the Church, so that you were somehow mission-minded if you were simply on the Altar Guild. In other words, it was used to hide the lacks rather than call to action.”

    In our Lutheran (LCMS) circles, “missional” seems to be used every third paragraph or so by church bureaucrats who want to show that they’re on the cutting edge, and whip the sales force into a frenzy of action, usually an hour or so before the clergy golf tournament. “Missional” seems to be code word for “anything goes so long as we bring ’em in” and is usually set against “liturgical” and “sacramental,” not to mention “confessional” and “traditional.”

    It causes me to want to have a John the Baptizer moment.


  17. Love the conversation. Thank you.
    I wonder if there might not be some sort of inter-working here, as Ted alluded to above. That is, attractional and missional are sides of the same coin, but they are both defined by and directed toward the Sacramental. Or, you could say, they are the response of the people of God to the work of God in Christ.
    -God gave us the sacraments in Christ.
    -We practice sacramental living as Church within the Church. (true attractional as in 1 Cor 14:25 [maybe?], versus song-n-dance)
    -We practice sacramental living as Church within our other community relations. (missional/incarnational)
    So, the Sacrament is stative: the work of God. But our activity involves 1. applying it within the Church, something truly attractive, and 2. taking it to the world, incarnation.


  18. OK,

    I gave in and Googled “ecclesiporn.” I am happy to report that the only hit was to this blog.

    Matthew, is the ATS you talk about Asbury Theological or Ashland Theological?

    William, speaking of church lingo, in the Episcopal Church “missional” meant anything you did in the Church, so that you were somehow mission-minded if you were simply on the Altar Guild. In other words, it was used to hide the lacks rather than call to action.


  19. Dumb Ox,

    Timothy George is the one who got me to stop being afraid of the word “sacrament.” I’m still very much on the journey on this issue, but for some interesting Baptist takes on sacraments, check out:

    Baptist Sacramentalism ed. by Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson
    (Tim Grass and Ian Randall have a great essay on Spurgeon and sacramentalism in this one.)

    More Than A Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism by Stanley K. Fowler

    Towards Baptist Catholicity by Steven R. Harmon

    All are in Paternoster’s “Studies in Baptist History and Thought” series.



  20. What an awesome panel! Very well chosen.

    It is interesting to hear a Baptist discuss sacraments rather than ordinances. I would love to hear more. I know Spurgeon advocated frequent communion.


  21. Bless you Lee!

    I’d like to think I’m the first to coin “ecclesiporn”, but, alas, I highly doubt it. On the other hand, Googling the term would require effort, and might take me into Lord knows what, and might shatter my delusions of adequacy, so, what the heck, we’ll let it stand as my word for the time being! 🙂

    Michael, you should meet Lee. He’s my former youth minister (when I was a squid) and my current dear friend. (He’s got a great blog too: He pastors in Santa Fe.



  22. As a pushback in defense of attractional church:

    In a society were everyone is an alcoholic, would you fault the AA meeting for doing whatever they could (short of offering free booze) to get people to their meeting? Or at the very least, would you not expect them to organize their meetings in such way to make it as easy as possible for people to assimilate — by doing away with unnecessary rituals and jargon that people find confusing?

    I guess I see attractional and missional as two sides of the same coin (to overuse a term). The missionary goes out the people as an act of worship to serve and share the gospel. The church gathering invites the people to it to participate in worship, be served, and hear the gospel.

    Of course these things are easy to screw up and anybody can point to bad examples of how to do either. A church can be good at getting people through it’s doors, but fail to lead people toward repentence of sin. A mission minded Christian can lovingly care for the dying, but neglect to share the hope of Jesus. But just because the failed examples are numerous (and often times laughable) does not make the principle any less valid.

    However, “attractional” should certainly not equate with “bait and switch”. The bait and switch mentality realy should have no place in evangelism, as it is a corruption of motive. It’s a subtle corruption, but I feel an important one to recognize.

    The bait and switch mentality says, “we will have cool music so people will come in the doors and hear the gospel”, or “we will feed the hungry so we can corral the homeless in a room to share the gospel”. We will bait them with what they want so we can give them what we want.

    In true evangelism, the “bait” should flow from our worship of God and not just be a gimmick. Our cool music should be cool because we love God with all our talent and skill and desire to worship him in a manner that is relavent and meaningful to us and to others. Same with our architecture, lighting, drama, programmming, etc. We sing our songs as an act of worship. We paint our walls as an act of worship. We care for the poor as an act of worship. We share the gospel as an act of worship. We don’t do it to be gimicky or as a bait. All we do, we do for the glory of God.


  23. Alan, I actually benefited from your ‘confusing’ expanation. Keep those!

    Also, googling ‘Gangsta Disciples’ will teach you a lot about stuff totally unrelated to liturgy, but, if you squint and think backwards, oddly correlated to the attractional church model.


  24. Dr. Richardson,

    Thank you for respresenting the SBC. You provide a perspective that is mostly (grossly) missing in our denomination.

    ‘Ecclesiporn?’ Well done, sir! Well done!

    Lee Herring


  25. +Alan, so we’re on the same page, I use “missional” interchangeably with “incarnational”, which is a personal preference of mine, but it was all wrapped up in what Dr. Whiteman taught at ATS.


  26. I love these posts – it is great to read different perspectives on an issue all in one place. I thought all the responses were good but especially resonated with the thoughts of Rev Cwirla. Thanks iMonk and gangstas!


  27. It isn’t surprising that the “attractional” model got a bad rap here. I’d challenge you to find anyone who would say that “grabbing their attention by any means possible” (as that mode was defined here) needs to be foremost in the life of the church.

    But I’d like to interject something that my highly Catholic father gave me. It was an article that said that “attractional”/low church models were like the minor leagues of baseball. Their nice and all but it isn’t until you get to the Majors that you arrive. (Of course, the Catholic church was termed the Majors but I think any “high church” would substitute nicely).

    After being initially insulted I realized what a good illustration it was.

    “Low/attractional church” is like the minor leagues or even little league. It’s where anyone can play. The emphasis is on having fun and being part of something. You learn the basics and most importantly here is where we develop a love for the game. Those who find themselves in love with the game move beyond the basics to the more advanced levels. They build in skill, knowledge, and ability until one day they are ready for the Majors.

    The important part is that the player move from little league to the minors to the majors.

    “Low churches” are overflowing with people they are having a problem discipling. “High churches” are overflowing with people who, being born into the Majors, have no idea of the depth, meaning and symbolism of the acts they participate in every week (or every day) and/or become ingrown.

    I don’t think one church model can be everything to everyone. You can’t have depth and accessibility. I’d love to see the churches work together in a generous spirit to develop a “feeder system” that pulls people in with the “attractional” model, Grows them to where they can participate fully in the “sacramental” model. Ultimately being filled to the point where they pour themselves out as an offering into the “missional” model–forming the attractive “incarnational” body that attracts the next generation of players.


  28. From a Roman Catholic that appreciated all of the responses; my vote goes with the good Lutheran brother. That was good stuff Pastor Cwirla!


  29. My thanks to all of you. I truly enjoyed reading your responses. It seems to me that the “attractional” issue created a certain level of suspicion across the board. I would concur. I guess what I appreciated the most however was having 5 men of God, from different Christian expressions, sounding very similar in your responses. What a beautiful thing! Would that we had more of it. Grace and Peace to you.


  30. Man,

    These were good dude! Shoot! Brother William brought the noise with this one bro:

    “Attractional” sounds like a bait and switch variety of entertainment evangelism to my Lutheran ears and messes with my spell checker. Lure ‘em in with kickin’ bands, tech, and praise babes, and maybe you can give them what they need down the road. But will the Son of Man find faith upon the earth as we amuse each other to death?

    The Greeks of Paul’s day demanded wisdom and persuasive rhetoric, the Jews demanded miracles. Yet Paul stubbornly preached Christ crucified, which nobody wanted. I seriously doubt that the Church will be “attractional” to an unrepentant sinner any more than an AA meeting would be attractive to someone who doesn’t think he has a drinking problem. Dying and rising is not a terribly attractive proposition to our old adamic flesh, even if the end result is eternal life. Disneyland is quite “attractional,” but MIckey Mouse can’t raise you from the dead


  31. “Fr. Creech” – from your keyboard to Rome’s ears Tigger. Awesome, this is like the old days or something.

    Thanks Fr. Ernesto. And once again, I’m seeing a pretty healthy level of agreement going on in all our responses. We’re not all saying exactly the same thing but there is some common current running through there.

    I like that the word incarnational was brought in here too. In essence, we, as the Church, are the continuation of the Incarnation in the world. So, we’re incarnational whether we say we are or not.


  32. My take on this is that you need all three. To be a church in the sense of the book of Acts there must be an equipping for for mission work whether it be local, intermediate or international. The way that we get there must include both the sacremental, though to be honest I think that Fr. Creech hit it on the head, that the liturgy is the framework that everything is hanging from. Lastly with out an attractive component, we won’t be getting people in on the front side to train, and send out into the world.

    Wish I had more time today to make this more polished but my ship sails in about 30 minutes and I have to do some work to get her ready.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: