The topic of attractional evangelism, which I define as “seeking to attract people to church, often through big events” garners much discussion. Some stand by it as a primary, effective, almost necessary means of evangelism in a culture that doesn’t want to hear the gospel. Others reject it as a man-centered, simplistic evangelistic method that waters down the gospel and leads to weak churches.
I agree that attractional approaches can be man-centered and can, frankly, ignore personal evangelism. On the other hand, I’m unwilling to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Here’s why:
1. Done well, attractional evangelism is just one of many tools in the church’s evangelistic toolbox. It’s when it becomes the only tool that I get most concerned.
2. Its motivation is usually a genuine desire to reach people for Christ. Sure, it often leads to only transfer growth, with far too little attention to disciple making—but that’s not what I’m describing here. Effective attractional evangelism can be motivated by an honest cry for lost people to know Jesus.
3. It pushes churches to think about excellence. I’ve never heard a church using attractional evangelism say, “Well, it doesn’t matter if we want to do things in a mediocre way.” Typically, they understand the need to do things well—first, for God’s glory, and second, to attract and keep people.
4. It pushes churches to think about contextualization. Contextualization focuses on communicating the gospel clearly and well in a given culture. For some reason, we accept this process as long as we’re serving overseas, but we see it as problematic if we do it on this side of the ocean. My argument is that we must always ask how to best communicate the gospel without compromise, regardless of the people or place we’re trying to reach. It’s hard to do effective attractional evangelism without asking these questions.
5. It encourages believers to think about unchurched neighbors and friends. If I can get someone to invite his or her friend to church, I’ve made a step in the right direction. Sometimes, deepening their desire enough to invite others to hear the gospel is the first step to training them to be sound, burdened evangelists.
6. It’s one strategy among several to reach people. Again, I’m not arguing for the sole use of this approach. I want to see churches doing personal evangelism, pulpit-based evangelism, small group evangelism, etc. Attractional evangelism is simply another option, albeit one that I’ve seen used effectively.
7. It brings people under the preaching of the gospel. That’s the bottom line: It might bring someone to hear the gospel. The church’s work is hardly finished if that person becomes a believer as a result, but the attractional approach may have been the primary evangelistic tool utilized.
Okay, what are your thoughts?
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was originally published on ChuckLawless.com.