What Is the Attractional Church?

No one has more consistently described, considered, and countered the attractional model of church than Jared Wilson. In his book The Gospel-Driven Church, one I’d recommend to every pastor, he answers this question: What is the attractional church, anyway?

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I (and many others) use the term attractional to refer to a way of doing church ministry who’s primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing.

The reasoning behind the attractional church approach goes something like this: One reason seekers aren’t attracted to church or Christianity is because they don’t see the Bible as relevant to their everyday life. Seekers ask questions and feel needs that most Christian churches don’t address. In fact, the old ways of doing church erect unnecessary barriers between people and Jesus, barriers of religion, tradition, judgment, and intellect. Successful ways of doing church remove those barriers.

While the expressions are varied, by and large the attractional church serves the end of attracting people in two ways: music and creative elements that appeal to the desired audience and teaching that is designed to be both inspirational and practical. This is true regardless of the size or style of an attractional church.

I also want to be clear about what I don’t mean. When I use the word attractional, I am not referring to “contemporary” worship styles or megachurches. Some critics of the attractional church movement easily lapse into a megachurch critique, and while there may be valid criticism of megachurches, that is not my concern in this book. The size of the church isn’t the point.

There are traditional and nontraditional, denominational and nondenominational, small, medium and megasized attractional churches. Attractional is not a style. It’s a paradigm.

An attractional church conducts worship and ministry according to the desires and values of potential consumers. This typically leads to the dominant ethos of pragmatism throughout the church. If a church determines its target audience prefers old-fashioned music, then that’s what they feature in order to attract those people.

So while the seeker-driven megachurch is the common picture of the attractional church, plenty of smaller churches use pragmatic and consumeristic methodology in the hope of growing bigger and fulfilling their dream of becoming mega. Plenty of churches with traditional styles (music, clothing, buildings), both big and small, employ the attraction model as well. Traditional is simply “what works best” in their context.

It bears mentioning that people being attracted to church is not in itself a bad thing! But when attraction becomes the primary mission, you tend to use whatever works to attract them. “We will do whatever it takes to get people in the door,” I often hear pastors say. “We just want them to be able to hear the message of Jesus.” The latter motivation is wonderful, but the problem is that “doing whatever it takes to get people in the door” can replace or undercut what we want them to be attracted to.  What you win people with is what you win them to. The best motives in the world cannot sanctify unbiblical methods.