Question: "What is an attractional church?"
Answer: The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. Attractional churches design their services and programs in such a way as to “attract” attendees. A primary focus of an attractional church is to attract congregants to worship services. The attractional church model, using the seeker-friendly approach, is often contrasted with the missional church model.
Most modern megachurches grew to their current size by being attractional. The leaders in attractional churches are driven by the desire to fill the building with the lost, unchurched, and de-churched. They have a passion to reach people no one else is reaching and utilize programs and events to draw the crowds. A key phrase in an attractional church is cultural relevance, and they go to great lengths to make visitors feel comfortable. Rather than design worship services for believers who gather to worship God, most attractional churches focus on making unbelievers feel welcome and comfortable, claiming that this helps more people meet Jesus.
Most Bible-believing church leaders would agree that the primary purpose for a local church is to glorify God. And the means by which we do this is threefold: worshiping Him, edifying His people, and evangelizing the world. Jesus issued a mandate to His followers: “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). This “going” of believers is the heartbeat of the missional church. The attractional church, on the other hand, focuses on the “coming” of unbelievers, as it sets up a “seeker-friendly” atmosphere.
Utilizing all means possible to evangelize the lost is an admirable goal (1 Corinthians 9:22), and there is nothing wrong with making church an inviting, welcoming place. Some of the strengths of the attractional church model are as follows:
1. The attractional church has a definite strategy to reach people.
2. The attractional church spends time considering what is important to the unsaved community, where they are coming from, and what they are seeking.
3. The attractional church usually maintains a high level of professionalism in its worship service. It is dedicated to excellence in presentation.
4. The attractional church is adept at providing practical advice for living in today’s world. It is committed to applying the gospel message in real life.
Still, we must look carefully at any church, whether fundamentalist, denominational, missional, or attractional, and ask whether or not it is making true disciples. We can tell whether a church’s model is working by considering the membership: are they walking in holiness, concerned about the lost, and growing in “grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)?
The first “megachurch” began in Acts 2, the result of the bold, uncompromising proclamation of the gospel and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The “attractional” nature of the early church was due to the power of God to change lives. The late author and theologian James Montgomery Boice once warned that “what you win them with is what you win them to.” We must be winning people with (and to) the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). If people are only attending church to hear a celebrity, win a car, or ride a pony, are they being attracted to the right things?
The attractional church can also have some weaknesses, and the following are some questions to ask:
1. Are the sermons designed to make people feel better about themselves rather than illustrate the need for repentance and restoration to God?
2. Are outreach decisions based on what is popular rather than what is biblical? Is the world redefining what the church should be?
3. Is the church consumer-driven as though attendees are the reason for its existence rather than the worship of God?
4. Are salvation, the cross, and repentance given priority, or are they afterthoughts?
5. Do the leaders measure success by the spiritual maturity in the membership or by the growing attendance?
6. Are social issues and controversial subjects addressed biblically from the pulpit?
7. Is there an emphasis on discipleship and obedience to the Lord? Is church discipline ever practiced?
8. How much attention is given to the scriptural qualifications for elders and leaders, as delineated in 1 Timothy 3:1–7?
9. Is the message of the cross alone enough of an attraction, or is there an implied need to supplement the truth with consumer-pleasing incentives?
Many attractional churches may discover to their dismay that, instead of creating disciples, they have filled their sanctuaries with cultural Christians. In a consumeristic society where Jesus is presented as another way to better one’s life, thousands assume they are saved because they like their church. They love the programs, the nice people, the community projects, and the social justice campaigns. Volunteering and taking leadership roles may make them feel like good people, and they assume that because the church is pleased with them that God is pleased as well.
When the gospel is compromised, as it is in some attractional churches, the result is a lack of any real preaching on sin and the attendance of many who have never experienced true repentance (Acts 3:19, 28). In a compromised church, there is no sorrow over sin (Psalm 51:3–4), no pursuit of holiness (Hebrews 12:14), no denial of self or taking up a cross (Luke 9:23), and no church discipline. Replacing true spirituality are the dynamic personalities of the leaders and the magnetic appeal of the church’s reputation. If the “attraction” should leave, so will the people.
We see no New Testament precedent for trying to attract unbelievers to a local church. The New Testament epistles were written to believers, teaching them how to endure persecution (2 Timothy 2:3), pursue godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and live as salt and light in a pagan culture. Speaking long before the dawn of the attractional church movement, Charles Spurgeon saw the dangers inherent in doing things the world’s way: “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”