It Started With Science Fiction: Reflections on Missional vs. Attractional Evangelism

Should churches primarily work at attracting seekers, or should churches practice a more missional approach?

Some time ago, a colleague and I began a science fiction book club with the purpose of engaging people far from God while also reading some fun books. Since then, much of our ministry has involved rebuilding broken trust and developing new bridges to communicate our faith.

Over time, it has become a tight-knit group of friends who can’t wait to get together for our monthly gathering and simply be ourselves. For my colleague and me, the group is just plain fun. But it is also our missional extension of witness to people who otherwise would have no meaningful connection to Christians or the church.

As a consequence, I have been thinking a lot about the attractional vs. missional debate. Should churches primarily work at attracting seekers to their churches, then preaching the gospel, inviting response and incorporating them into the life of the church? Or should churches practice a more missional approach, where Christians are sent out to form missional communities in every highway and byway, every neighborhood and network, and do the work of witness in those small missional outposts planted in the world?

I think it depends. Many people can still be reached through attractional approaches, although there is a tendency for those approaches to reproduce consumer Christians. There are also many people in our culture who would not darken the door of a church, and who need us to pursue more costly missional approaches to witness. Either way, we start by doing things we love to do with the people in our neighborhoods and networks.

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Allow me to share five points of what a missional approach to witness looks like.

1. Understand seekers and skeptics. They are disinterested in institutional religion, but are spiritually hungry. Understand their process and serve them well.

2. Reach out through social networking. Neighborhoods and networks need to be permeated through intimate friendships that can be cultivated around common interests, food and conversation.

3. Build a community of embodied faith in each neighborhood and network in which inquirers can participate, where they can belong before they have to believe.

4. Integrate the process of conversion with the process of life change (transformation) in the areas of believing, belonging and behaving.

5. Apprentice people, before and after they come to believe, into missional faith, service and outreach in their neighborhood or network (i.e. reproduce).

Which leads me to a question: Would more missional approaches to witness reproduce more missional (instead of consumerist) Christians?

Rick Richardson is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and director of and professor in the M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership and the M.A. in Missional Church Movements programs at Wheaton College.