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The Problem with Attractional Evangelism

—From The Keystone Project Training Manual by Richard Greene

God has used attractional evangelism in its many forms throughout the history of the church. Every Sunday God blesses the preaching of his Word and the saints are encouraged and non-believers are invited to put their faith in Jesus. In crusades and revival meetings from George Whitfield to Billy Graham, attractional evangelism has been the final catalysts to bring many into the kingdom of God. Yet alongside all of this good, there are some very real dangers to the over-reliance on attractional forms of evangelism that are seen in many churches today.

The Problem: Most modern churches have come to rely primarily on an attractional evangelistic method to reach their communities.

In this method the church attempts to evangelize the community by attracting people to its buildings, services, events, or programs. The idea behind this approach is that you offer people what they want or enjoy and they “come to your church.” It is assumed that as they attend the church’s programs they will find Christ and become disciples.

There are (at least) five major weaknesses of the attractional evangelistic method:

1. It does not make disciples; it attracts consumers.

The attractional method typically appeals to the needs or desires of those it is targeting to reach, and must deliver those needs and desires at a “price” the target group is willing to pay. This is religious consumerism. At some point the church must call the attendee to a deeper level of commitment and sacrifice without which it is impossible for them to be a disciple. When that call comes later rather than earlier, the attendee has already “bought into” a form of Christianity which has allowed him to be a Christian without being a disciple. Too often this results in what Dallas Willard calls the “cost of non-discipleship”, undiscipled disciples! Additionally, it violates the basic principles of discipleship because you do not attract disciples, you call them (Matthew 8:18-22).

2. It tends to be very expensive and resource intensive.

Bringing unchurched people into a church using the attractional method often requires a steady menu of consumer-oriented approaches, programs, and events involving facilities, resources, staff, and media.

The focus too easily becomes the development of these attractional features rather than intentionally and organically discipling those who attend.

3. It is not easily reproducible.

See number 2 above! Those who have sufficient resources to support the attractional method can do it well. Those who do not have sufficient resources will struggle to reproduce the attractional model.

Because it is dependent on resources for its success, this method is inherently artificial rather than organic. At best it cannot lead to addition growth but never multiplication growth.

4. What you win them by is what you win them to.

What is the effect on the church when it attracts people by giving them what they want or need? The church becomes the object of its own ministry. The community becomes a means by which the church grows, instead of the church being a means by which the community is reached. How will such an attractional approach affect the call of Christ on those who respond to it? Having responded to our offers and provision of what they want or need, they must now obey Christ’s command to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him! It also unintentionally puts churches in competition with one another. The reality is that those who would respond to the attractional method will typically be those who would consider attending a church. Statistics indicate that in the future that will be a smaller percentage of the general population. Churches will have to compete for this group.

5. It creates a weak “point of connection” between the target group and the church.

When you rely on the attractional approach for evangelism, you will connect people to your church by appealing to what they like, want, or feel they need. This creates a very weak point of connection to the church.

It is a very weak connection because:

  • It requires too little commitment from new attendees. They are connected to the church by the things which attracted them to the church rather than by a commitment to Christ.
  • It requires too little commitment from your members, especially in the area of evangelism. Evangelism becomes a matter of inviting someone to church rather than sharing one’s faith.
  • It requires you (the church pastor/leader) to focus your attention, time, and resources on providing what people want and enjoy rather than leading them into what God is doing.

In the attractional approach we measure church growth in terms of the success of our programs (i.e. the youth ministry is successful if it attracts more youth). If we are using our worship services to attract new people, then our worship services will be (rightfully) measured by how many people they attract. However, if we are using our worship services to worship God, one must seriously question how prominent a role increasing numbers should play in measuring the success of those services and in determining what we do in them. Perhaps there are other more subjective assessments we would want to focus on such as the spiritual qualities of worship, transformation, God’s manifest presence, obedience, Biblical teaching and preaching, etc.

The way we define and qualify church growth determines how we measure it. The way we measure it will affect how we pursue it.

If we measure church growth in terms of attendance, then we will pursue it in terms of attendance. If we measure it in terms of spiritual transformation and community impact, then we will pursue it in terms of spiritual transformation and community impact. Of what value is a full service when the local schools and neighborhoods are left unchanged?

While increasing numbers can indicate an increase in spiritual growth, it is questionable whether or not it is enough of an indication to warrant the current level of attention it receives in modern institutional church growth strategies.

In the end, we must question whether or not the numerical growth of services, programs, or meetings should be the consuming focus of visionary church leadership and whether or not increasing numbers “in church” means increasing numbers in the Church. What do you think?

About the Keystone Project

The Keystone Project is a global missions network of churches and leaders committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation.

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