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What are the dangers of being a church that focuses on attracting people?

One of the reasons the “attractional church model” is being questioned today is the realization that it often produces consumers of religious goods and services more than it makes disciples. Participants can come to church, be uplifted and inspired, greet some like-minded people, and then go home having “consumed” their spiritual “product” for the week. The call to love our neighbors, to bear witness, and to disciple and be discipled is perceived as optional, periphery, or a voluntary add-on to already busy lives. Faith formation, in other words, is not considered integral to being a Christian.

A second danger of the attractional church model is its understanding of church “success.” It’s about getting more people in the pews and more money to pay the bills and run the programs. But what if being church is more about discovering and joining the Spirit in God’s mission right where we live? Congregations seeking to move away from an attractional model are asking different questions. Instead of trying to get more people to come to the worship gathering, they are wondering about how they can be the church—talking with neighbors, reflecting on how well they are listening, and responding to the Spirit at work ahead of them in their neighborhoods.

A third concern about the attractional paradigm is the individualistic approach to life and faith that it engenders. In this model, church is about me: my needs, my relationship with Jesus, my comfort. But the church is the only kind of organization that does not exist for the sake of its members! The church, as theologian Craig Van Gelder asserts in his book The Essence of the Church, is called, made, and sent to be “God’s personal presence in the world through the Spirit.” We are blessed to be blessings—salt and light! The question, then, is not how to attract more people to church, but how to go and be the church in our contexts today.

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