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They didn’t feel like my dad was qualified to be senior pastor because of his age, education, and his irritating propensity to preach about sin, repentance, and personal salvation. Imagine such a thing. It wasn’t long before they decided my dad would need to step down. But that was going to be tricky. The church was experiencing new life.

Growth of a Church

They told us to reach our new community and then gave us complete freedom to dream, design, and create. So we did. And while we didn’t know exactly what we were doing, we knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to re-create environments designed for church people. We wanted to create a church that unchurched people would love to attend.

They told us to reach our new community and then gave us complete freedom to dream, design, and create. So we did. And while we didn’t know exactly what we were doing, we knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to re-create environments designed for church people. We wanted to create a church that unchurched people would love to attend.

Dream, design and create???

We had experienced Acts 2 together.

We had experienced Acts 2 together.

Reoccurance of ACTS 2
Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend Section Two: Our Story: Walking Toward the Messes

In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global mission. It was led by men and women who were fueled not by what they believed, but by what they had seen.

The Church in the beginning
Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend Section Two: Our Story: Walking Toward the Messes

In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global mission. It was led by men and women who were fueled not by what they believed, but by what they had seen.

But something else of extraordinary significance was communicated during this exchange. Something that the English translation of the Bible misses. Specifically, the meaning of the term translated church. As you may know, the Greek term translated church throughout the New Testament is ekklesia.8 What you may not know is that it was not a religious term. It could refer to citizens called to gather for civic purposes. It was used to refer to soldiers called out to gather for military purposes. An ekklesia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. Ekklesia never referred to a specific place, only a specific gathering.

But something else of extraordinary significance was communicated during this exchange. Something that the English translation of the Bible misses. Specifically, the meaning of the term translated church. As you may know, the Greek term translated church throughout the New Testament is ekklesia.8 What you may not know is that it was not a religious term. It could refer to citizens called to gather for civic purposes. It was used to refer to soldiers called out to gather for military purposes. An ekklesia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. Ekklesia never referred to a specific place, only a specific gathering.

Ekklesia

Within a decade, the ekklesia ceased to be a movement. It was no longer an expanding group of people sharing a unique identity and purpose. It had become a location. The Romans called each of these gathering places a basilica, the Latin word used to denote a public building or official meeting place.

Within a decade, the ekklesia ceased to be a movement. It was no longer an expanding group of people sharing a unique identity and purpose. It had become a location. The Romans called each of these gathering places a basilica, the Latin word used to denote a public building or official meeting place.

Ekklesia no longer a movement but a location

Within a decade, the ekklesia ceased to be a movement. It was no longer an expanding group of people sharing a unique identity and purpose. It had become a location. The Romans called each of these gathering places a basilica, the Latin word used to denote a public building or official meeting place.

Tyndale had the audacity to actually translate the term ekklesia rather than superimpose the German term kirche. Instead of church he used the term congregation. If that wasn’t offensive enough, the Greek text led him to use elder instead of priest, and repent instead of do penance.11 Throughout the New Testament, he correctly reflected the Bible’s original emphasis on church as a movement rather than a location, on people rather than a building, and on the message of the gospel rather than traditions, liturgy, and hierarchy.

Tyndale had the audacity to actually translate the term ekklesia rather than superimpose the German term kirche. Instead of church he used the term congregation. If that wasn’t offensive enough, the Greek text led him to use elder instead of priest, and repent instead of do penance.11 Throughout the New Testament, he correctly reflected the Bible’s original emphasis on church as a movement rather than a location, on people rather than a building, and on the message of the gospel rather than traditions, liturgy, and hierarchy.

Tyndale’s definition of Ekklesia (Church)

There will always be leaders who view the church as a movement with a divinely inspired mission and mandate.

There will always be leaders who view the church as a movement with a divinely inspired mission and mandate.

Leader’s view of the Church

What does all this mean for those of us called to lead and shape the twenty-first-century ekklesia of God? It means we need to look around our kirches and ask some unsettling questions. Questions like:

• Are we moving or simply meeting?

• Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services?

• Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?

• Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?

• Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?

What does all this mean for those of us called to lead and shape the twenty-first-century ekklesia of God? It means we need to look around our kirches and ask some unsettling questions. Questions like:

• Are we moving or simply meeting?

• Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services?

• Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?

• Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?

• Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?

Outlook of the 21-Century Ekklesia of Christ

On the other end of the church spectrum are those who declare that the church is for everyone, regardless of belief or behavior. These are the churches that value openness, tolerance, and acceptance above what more conservative churches would consider orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Growing up, we called these liberal churches.

On the other end of the church spectrum are those who declare that the church is for everyone, regardless of belief or behavior. These are the churches that value openness, tolerance, and acceptance above what more conservative churches would consider orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Growing up, we called these liberal churches.

Liberal Church

In Jesus, there was no conflict between grace and truth. It’s that artificial conflict that sends churches toward unhealthy as well as unhelpful extremes. It is our misunderstanding of the grace Jesus modeled and taught that leaves us feeling as if grace allows people to “get by” with things. It is often our misapplication of truth that leaves people feeling condemned and isolated. But in Jesus, we discover that it doesn’t have to be that way. Grace doesn’t dumb down sin to make it more palatable. Grace doesn’t have to. The purpose of truth isn’t to isolate people from God or from his people.

In Jesus, there was no conflict between grace and truth. It’s that artificial conflict that sends churches toward unhealthy as well as unhelpful extremes. It is our misunderstanding of the grace Jesus modeled and taught that leaves us feeling as if grace allows people to “get by” with things. It is often our misapplication of truth that leaves people feeling condemned and isolated. But in Jesus, we discover that it doesn’t have to be that way. Grace doesn’t dumb down sin to make it more palatable. Grace doesn’t have to. The purpose of truth isn’t to isolate people from God or from his people.

Artificial not TRUTH that sends CHURCHES to unhealthy extremes

Our decision to cling to both grace and truth impacts the way we do just about everything. And that is important for you to keep in mind as you study our model.

Our decision to cling to both grace and truth impacts the way we do just about everything. And that is important for you to keep in mind as you study our model.

Model Church - Cling to Grace and Truth

Without massive doses of both, you won’t have a healthy gathering.

Without massive doses of both, you won’t have a healthy gathering.

Grace and Truth promote healthy gatherings.
The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo Introduction: The Parable of the Prodigal Church

And while helping wounded people recover is not a bad thing at all, the church began to discover that most of their people—new Christians and “old” Christians alike—were not growing very deep in their faith. The lack, it seemed to them, was of a more relevant way to apply their faith to everyday life.

The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo Introduction: The Parable of the Prodigal Church

And while helping wounded people recover is not a bad thing at all, the church began to discover that most of their people—new Christians and “old” Christians alike—were not growing very deep in their faith. The lack, it seemed to them, was of a more relevant way to apply their faith to everyday life.

Reason why Christians are not deep in Faith? Not knowing how to apply their faith to life.
The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo Introduction: The Parable of the Prodigal Church

So the church came up with some new ideas to help people grow. They changed traditional Sunday school to innovative small groups, outdated special music to contemporary video montages. In order to help people see God’s Word in the world around them, they began applying Bible verses to songs on the radio and movies at the theater. The church continued deconstructing more things, making more things over. The church had—in their own estimation, cleverly—traded out the “don’ts” for “dos,” but in the end, they discovered that even the regular dispensing of practical helps for victorious living wasn’t having the desired effect.

The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo Introduction: The Parable of the Prodigal Church

So the church came up with some new ideas to help people grow. They changed traditional Sunday school to innovative small groups, outdated special music to contemporary video montages. In order to help people see God’s Word in the world around them, they began applying Bible verses to songs on the radio and movies at the theater. The church continued deconstructing more things, making more things over. The church had—in their own estimation, cleverly—traded out the “don’ts” for “dos,” but in the end, they discovered that even the regular dispensing of practical helps for victorious living wasn’t having the desired effect.

Trading out Don’t for Do’s.

There are good contemporary churches and bad ones. But when, faced with critique, the contemporary church holds up an idea of the traditional church as boring or fundamentalist or backward, it is the cheapest kind of defensiveness and self-justification.

There are good contemporary churches and bad ones. But when, faced with critique, the contemporary church holds up an idea of the traditional church as boring or fundamentalist or backward, it is the cheapest kind of defensiveness and self-justification.

Contemporary Church view of Traditional Church

I have deep concerns about the current approach to what used to be called the seeker church, what some today may call the “attractional” church. I think there are some fundamental assumptions and instrumental decisions being made at the heart of this way of doing church that are not in step with the truth of the gospel.

I have deep concerns about the current approach to what used to be called the seeker church, what some today may call the “attractional” church. I think there are some fundamental assumptions and instrumental decisions being made at the heart of this way of doing church that are not in step with the truth of the gospel.

Wilson’s concern for the fundamentals of the Attractional Church

How we “do church” shapes the way people see God and his Son and his ways in the world. If you agree with that, it behooves us to constantly evaluate what shape our church is taking and what shape of Christian our church is making.

How we “do church” shapes the way people see God and his Son and his ways in the world. If you agree with that, it behooves us to constantly evaluate what shape our church is taking and what shape of Christian our church is making.

How we do Church shapes the way people see GOD.

A definition of “attractional” would perhaps be something like this: a way of ministry that derives from the primary purpose of making Christianity appealing.

A definition of “attractional” would perhaps be something like this: a way of ministry that derives from the primary purpose of making Christianity appealing.

Definition of an Attractional Church

The goal, as we used to say, was to remove every stumbling block but the cross from between the lost and Jesus.

The goal, as we used to say, was to remove every stumbling block but the cross from between the lost and Jesus.

Goal of the Attractional Church

But the problem, as many of us see it now, is that this message of the cross appears to have gotten lost despite our best intentions, contrary to plan, obscured in the well-meaning zeal to remove the unnecessary barriers. In one church I was a part of, they literally removed a cross from the sanctuary wall because it seemed too churchy.

But the problem, as many of us see it now, is that this message of the cross appears to have gotten lost despite our best intentions, contrary to plan, obscured in the well-meaning zeal to remove the unnecessary barriers. In one church I was a part of, they literally removed a cross from the sanctuary wall because it seemed too churchy.

Attraction Church Model seems to have lost the message of the Cross

Now, many attractional churches still preach that Jesus died for our sins, of course. But too often this message of Christ’s death has become assumed, the thing you build up to rather than focus on. Or, in too many other cases, this message is treated as the “add-on” to other messages, the proposition presented at the end of a message that is more about our personal success than Christ’s personal victory.

But the appeal is easy to see. Attractional is certainly attractive. These kinds of messages, over time, communicate to seeker and believer alike that Christianity is about themselves, making the faith more about self-improvement or life enhancement—which are things we all want deep down. But are they the real message of Jesus?

But the appeal is easy to see. Attractional is certainly attractive. These kinds of messages, over time, communicate to seeker and believer alike that Christianity is about themselves, making the faith more about self-improvement or life enhancement—which are things we all want deep down. But are they the real message of Jesus?

The Attractional Church Goal? Is it really the message of Christ?

The dominant message in so much attractional preaching is that Jesus has come to make life easier or better for us, that his teachings can help us in pursuit of our aspirations. So the attractional church sometimes struggles to talk about sin. Not always, of course, but sometimes. Sin is recast as problems, baggage, “issues,” brokenness, all real and true things but none quite getting at what sin really is—a cancer deep inside all of us that is a hideous offense against the holiness of God.

The theological point is sound: when believers are engaged in the worship of God, this worship communicates to a lost world who God is and what he has done. Morgenthaler goes on to explain that when believers demonstrate that the deepest longings of our hearts are satisfied by God, it bears compelling witness to those who are seeking the same kind of satisfaction.

The theological point is sound: when believers are engaged in the worship of God, this worship communicates to a lost world who God is and what he has done. Morgenthaler goes on to explain that when believers demonstrate that the deepest longings of our hearts are satisfied by God, it bears compelling witness to those who are seeking the same kind of satisfaction.

True Worship bears Witness to who God is “he satisfy’s the lost soul”.

It is not uncommon now for large churches not just to offer multiple services or campuses to accommodate more people but to offer multiple genres or “experiences” in these venues to accommodate more tastes and preferences.

It is not uncommon now for large churches not just to offer multiple services or campuses to accommodate more people but to offer multiple genres or “experiences” in these venues to accommodate more tastes and preferences.

Attractional churches offers more tastes and preferences? Taste and see that the Lord is Good.

Sally Morgenthaler has essentially disavowed her own claims.

Sally Morgenthaler has essentially disavowed her own claims.

Sally Morgenthaler’s disavowed claims concerning Mega Churches.
doesn’t accomplish what it was set out for
outlook is “it’s all about us”
excitement and engagement
feel good experience
detered from God’s worthiness and exaltation

The realization hit me in the gut. Between 1995 and 2000 I’d traveled to a host of worship-driven churches, some that openly advertised that they were “a church for the unchurched.” On the good occasions, the worship experience was transporting. (I dug a little deeper when that happened. Invariably, I found another value at work behind the worship production: a strong, consistent presence in the community.) Too many times, I came away with an unnamed, uneasy feeling. Something was not quite right. The worship felt disconnected from real life. Then there were the services when the pathology my friend talked about came right over the platform and hit me in the face. It was unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, “It’s all about us” so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour.7

I remember the morning this became clear to me in terms of my own church experience. I’d long suspected the worship experience at our church was aimed more at the congregation’s sense of excitement and engagement than at God’s worthiness and exaltation. Certainly there is nothing wrong with feeling good when celebrating God’s character and work. But if the purpose of worship is to feel good, we stop worshiping God.

As the research shows, by and large the people filling these church buildings week in and week out turn out to be other Christians. Often they are de-churched Christians or disaffected Christians or disillusioned Christians, but the idea that the attractional church is having its doors beaten down by lost people is a myth.

As the research shows, by and large the people filling these church buildings week in and week out turn out to be other Christians. Often they are de-churched Christians or disaffected Christians or disillusioned Christians, but the idea that the attractional church is having its doors beaten down by lost people is a myth.

Mega Churches are not growing because of mission efforts or the lost being saved, but because of dechurched, disaffected or disillusioned Christians possibly relocating from other churches.
some call this “transfer growth”
rockin worship
dynamic preacher
fancier facility
better coffee
eventually become dissatisfied and move on to another

What generally happens is that an aspiring megachurch develops an attractional mind-set, and their efforts produce great fruit in attracting Christians from other churches with less prodigious offerings, or Christians who have been out of church for a while. These folks need church too, of course. But the kind of growth the attractional church experiences the most of is in reality the kind of growth they often claim they don’t want, the kind we might call “transfer growth.”

What we see happening most often is that a Christian bored or unsatisfied with the goods and services at his church goes to the more attractive church with the more rockin’ worship, more dynamic preacher, fancier facility, better coffee, bigger kids’ or students’ ministry, etc., but five to six years later (and in many cases, even less), they become dissatisfied with that experience and are ready to go find another.

It seems in fact that the very paradigm of the attractional church creates this instability. As a church seeks to speak into a particular demographic or life stage, channeling significant resources into certain key areas of a church, it ends up attracting people whose life stage or circumstances most resonate with those offerings. But when they stop resonating, they stop going. So the retention rate for the attractional megachurch is not very promising.

It seems in fact that the very paradigm of the attractional church creates this instability. As a church seeks to speak into a particular demographic or life stage, channeling significant resources into certain key areas of a church, it ends up attracting people whose life stage or circumstances most resonate with those offerings. But when they stop resonating, they stop going. So the retention rate for the attractional megachurch is not very promising.

CON: Attraction Churches create instability and not promising
attract people
resonate with their stages in life
when the resonating stops people stop going
family is won by attractive goods and services

Do you see what has happened? The family has not been won to a church. They’ve been won to a menu of attractive goods and services.

• most of the people coming to the attractional church are already professing believers,

• most of the believers coming to the attractional church remain in one church for a relatively short period of their lives, and

• most of the people in the attractional church are not effectively discipled toward spiritual growth beyond the seeker or consumeristic stage of life.

• most of the people coming to the attractional church are already professing believers,

• most of the believers coming to the attractional church remain in one church for a relatively short period of their lives, and

• most of the people in the attractional church are not effectively discipled toward spiritual growth beyond the seeker or consumeristic stage of life.

Facts about attractional churches

The paragon of the attractional church model itself, Willow Creek, published its REVEAL survey a few years ago, demonstrating the sobering reality that much of what they thought they were doing to cultivate disciples hadn’t worked:

The paragon of the attractional church model itself, Willow Creek, published its REVEAL survey a few years ago, demonstrating the sobering reality that much of what they thought they were doing to cultivate disciples hadn’t worked:

Study-Willow Creek Church
CON: cultivating disciples for Christ has not worked
PRO: met the needs of those exploring Christianity
CON: less successful in meeting the needs of those seeking a closeness with Christ
this group is stalled in their Christian growth or dissatified with the church
CON: invested a lot of resources, expertise, and years of devoted volunteers into the attractive church model and the system did not work
PRO: have won souls to Christ
CON: more disaffected Christians are being reached than this sinner
Other Attractive Church Models
Same effects
Back to business or the model as usual

The study shows that while Willow has been successfully meeting the spiritual needs of those who describe themselves as “exploring Christianity” or “growing in Christ,” it has been less successful at doing so with those who self-report as being “close to Christ” or “Christ-centered.” In fact, one-fourth of the last two groups say that they are either “stalled” in their spiritual growth and/or “dissatisfied” with the church.11

Basically what happened was this: Willow Creek discovered that after putting a lot of resources, expertise, volunteers, and years into the development of fully devoted followers of Christ, the system didn’t work. It was a brave admission, and Willow stood to lose a lot of credibility in the church world by making it. Their honesty was bold and staggering.

But in seeking to define success the way the Bible does, we have to be brave and admit we aren’t doing as well as we think we are. Even by the attractional church’s own standard of measurement—effectively reaching the lost—the actual numbers, again, show that more disaffected Christians are being reached than the lost.

Ezekiel 37:7–8 shows us that something can look alive but not actually be alive. It’s possible for what’s been assembled to look successful, to look active, and yet not be filled with the Spirit of God.

Is it possible this is what we’ve crafted with many of our ecclesiastic enterprises? Have we only set loose an army of shiny, platitude-dispensing golems? Spiritual skeletons clacking about in the religious busywork of Christian relevance but devoid of real meat on the bones?

Ezekiel 37:7–8 shows us that something can look alive but not actually be alive. It’s possible for what’s been assembled to look successful, to look active, and yet not be filled with the Spirit of God.

Is it possible this is what we’ve crafted with many of our ecclesiastic enterprises? Have we only set loose an army of shiny, platitude-dispensing golems? Spiritual skeletons clacking about in the religious busywork of Christian relevance but devoid of real meat on the bones?

Concern: Attractive Churches mere skeleton’s w/o flesh Eze 37:7-8?????
Cons of Contemporary Churches just as real in traditional churches

To be fair, this reality is also prevalent in churches that pride themselves on having “sound doctrine,” where human ingenuity and personality and tradition reign just as unself-consciously as in more contemporary churches.

This is not a strike against having a megachurch. It’s only a strike against the idolatry of the megachurch. It’s a strike against a church of any size that is trusting in growth, whether it’s actually experiencing it or not.

This is not a strike against having a megachurch. It’s only a strike against the idolatry of the megachurch. It’s a strike against a church of any size that is trusting in growth, whether it’s actually experiencing it or not.

Concern: Any church trusting in growth in numbers alone rather than growth in Christ is skating w/ idolatry.

As great as it is to grow like this—and to keep growing like this!—we have to remind each other that it’s possible to increase in numbers and at the same time decrease in health. Sometimes unhealthy things grow.

As great as it is to grow like this—and to keep growing like this!—we have to remind each other that it’s possible to increase in numbers and at the same time decrease in health. Sometimes unhealthy things grow.

As great as it is to grow like this—and to keep growing like this!—we have to remind each other that it’s possible to increase in numbers and at the same time decrease in health. Sometimes unhealthy things grow.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more.

A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more.

Smaller Churches, 200 or less are 4x more likely to plant a daughter church than mega churches.

I am not suggesting that the mega church is something we need to end, I am simply saying that we need other kinds of churches to truly transform our world.

I am not suggesting that the mega church is something we need to end, I am simply saying that we need other kinds of churches to truly transform our world.

Mega Churches should not be abandoned, but smaller churches are just as necessary to transform the world.
I also do not want people in huge churches to think that, just because they have more people and more money, they are more blessed by God. The stats tell us that ten smaller churches of 100 people will accomplish much more than one church of 1000.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100–200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200–300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300–400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”

Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.

“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100–200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200–300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300–400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”

Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.

Growth Rate of Churches
  “The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100–200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200–300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300–400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”
Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Can you consider that, perhaps, in the attractional model of church, it is not just difficult to effectively disciple people; it is also difficult to care for their souls?

Can you consider that, perhaps, in the attractional model of church, it is not just difficult to effectively disciple people; it is also difficult to care for their souls?

CON: In the attractional church model it is difficult to effectively disciple people and also difficult to care for their souls.

In Christine Wicker’s The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, the author surveys attractional church burnout, which I’ve witnessed numerous times personally. Wicker writes,

In Christine Wicker’s The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, the author surveys attractional church burnout, which I’ve witnessed numerous times personally. Wicker writes,

CON: Mega Church Burnout
exhausted by feeding the beast
contributing to show rather than the life of the church
Of course, church members should be expected to serve the church in a variety of ways. No one could biblically argue that growing in Christian maturity means not contributing to the life of a church body. But in the attractional model, all too often members are not contributing to the life of their church body but to the church’s programming, to the—dare we say it?—show.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Of course, church members should be expected to serve the church in a variety of ways. No one could biblically argue that growing in Christian maturity means not contributing to the life of a church body. But in the attractional model, all too often members are not contributing to the life of their church body but to the church’s programming, to the—dare we say it?—show.

Shouldn’t we measure our models against the means and methods found in the Scriptures?

Shouldn’t we measure our models against the means and methods found in the Scriptures?

Goal: All churches should measure their models with scripture
But I want you to consider that when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to the lost and feeding the sheep, we have to give great care to the means. And in fact, how we do church will have a direct impact on the quality of the results we get.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
And yet, as we seek to do the good work of missionary contextualization, we have to make sure that we have not crossed lines into cultural accommodation, that we haven’t inadvertently adopted some of the values and appetites of our cultural contexts that stand in opposition to the Bible.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

But I want you to consider that when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to the lost and feeding the sheep, we have to give great care to the means. And in fact, how we do church will have a direct impact on the quality of the results we get.

And yet, as we seek to do the good work of missionary contextualization, we have to make sure that we have not crossed lines into cultural accommodation, that we haven’t inadvertently adopted some of the values and appetites of our cultural contexts that stand in opposition to the Bible.

I think the evangelical church in the West is particularly susceptible to two primary ideologies that drive many of its ways of doing church today, and I think the attractional model is fundamentally built on these functional ideologies. These ideologies are pragmatism and consumerism.

I think the evangelical church in the West is particularly susceptible to two primary ideologies that drive many of its ways of doing church today, and I think the attractional model is fundamentally built on these functional ideologies. These ideologies are pragmatism and consumerism.

CON: Attractional Church built upon the pragmatism and consumerism idealogy.
I think the evangelical church in the West is particularly susceptible to two primary ideologies that drive many of its ways of doing church today, and I think the attractional model is fundamentally built on these functional ideologies. These ideologies are pragmatism and consumerism.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
Pragmatism is the way of thinking that says, “If it works, let’s work it.”1
Pragmatism has a utilitarian ethos to it. It is by nature unspiritual. It has no room for discernment in it.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
Pragmatism has a utilitarian ethos to it. It is by nature unspiritual. It has no room for discernment in it.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

There are some areas where being pragmatic may be fitting. But in the spiritual economy of Christian ministry, I would suggest that pragmatism runs counter to the functional ideology of Scripture.

Pragmatism is the way of thinking that says, “If it works, let’s work it.”

Pragmatism has a utilitarian ethos to it. It is by nature unspiritual. It has no room for discernment in it.

But pragmatism is the kind of thinking that values a thing based entirely on its apparent practicality. Pragmatism judges the usefulness of a particular practice (or sometimes even a particular person) based on results.

The missional mandate becomes less “go and tell” and more “come and see.”

The missional mandate becomes less “go and tell” and more “come and see.”

Missional Model
The missional mandate becomes less “go and tell” and more “come and see.”1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results. It functions in law mode, because it assumes, “if we do this, then that will happen.” The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.

Pragmatism reasons that God’s ability to use anything means our freedom to use everything.

Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results. It functions in law mode, because it assumes, “if we do this, then that will happen.” The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.

Pragmatism reasons that God’s ability to use anything means our freedom to use everything.

Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results. It functions in law mode, because it assumes, “if we do this, then that will happen.” The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.
Pragmatism reasons that God’s ability to use anything means our freedom to use everything.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

The pragmatic approach of too many attractional churches aims for quantity in disciple making but suffers in quality. When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him. So as the pragmatic spirit drives our methodology, the kind of discipleship culture that results is shallow and frequently artificial.

The pragmatic approach of too many attractional churches aims for quantity in disciple making but suffers in quality. When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him. So as the pragmatic spirit drives our methodology, the kind of discipleship culture that results is shallow and frequently artificial.

Pragmatic aims for
quantity and not quality
help the spirit rather than follow his lead
The pragmatic approach of too many attractional churches aims for quantity in disciple making but suffers in quality. When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him. So as the pragmatic spirit drives our methodology, the kind of discipleship culture that results is shallow and frequently artificial.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

The functional ideology of consumerism highlights the “felt needs” of,

The functional ideology of consumerism highlights the “felt needs” of,

Function of Consumerism
Free Choice
Less to do with the worship of God, but more to do with the worshiper’s liking.
Competition in Providing an Experience
churches competing with other churches for market share
Customization of Product
Diversity of Goods and Services
Increase # of worship services
Contemporary service at 8
Traditional service at 10
Emerging service on Saturday night
Virtual service on the internet
Freedom of choice, competition in providing experience, and customization of product. When you put this recipe into church strategy, you end up not with churches but with religious resource centers.1
1 Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

But in the attractional model, great care and concern is given to identifying target customers and giving them the experience they want.

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