Foolishly entering the fray…
So the whole missional vs. attractional church debate has risen to the bloggy surface yet once again sparked by Dan Kimball's recent post on the Out of Ur blog. In the piece he questions the fruit of so-called missional churches because a few that he knows of anecdotally haven't grown while attractional churches are making converts in droves. Since they aren't making converts, they therefore are ineffectual. Being missional means squat apparently unless you are growing in numbers and the sins of attractional models are incidentally absolved since they are making converts. Others have questioned the reality of such conversions, and I especially liked Dave Fitch's response on that account. But to the specific accusation that missional churches are ineffectual, I have to ask – at what?
According to Dan, effective churches are those which make (and continue to make) a lot of converts. I'm all for conversions, but what exactly are they being converted to? Is a conversion that professes the name of Christ, but is consumeristic and "me-centered" really the sort of conversions we want? It may be easy to attract people to that sort of faith, but to pull out the old phrase – what you call people with is what you call them to. What's the point of "converting" people to American consumer culture with a Jesus veneer? Even if you desire that they will eventually change, why the bait n' switch? But to write off the people who are attempting to give up all that in favor of self-sacrificial living because not enough people want to jump on that bandwagon simply astounds me. When did Christianity become a popularity contest? I know I'm being extreme and harsh with those questions, and in many ways I am a both/and sort of person in regards to this issue, but I was just really shocked to hear the missional church dismissed in such a way.
And of course I'm saying all this as a "failed" missional church planter. Failed in terms of numbers and money. We couldn't attract enough people willing to give enough money to pay our salary and so the church failed. Yes, that's crass, but that's what happened. And it also totally misses the entire point of what the church actually was. We were a bunch of messy people working our butts off serving each other. We had people attending who really weren't welcome in other churches because they were "too much work" or because they "asked the wrong questions" or because they just weren't cool enough for the attractional churches. Our church became family to each other – opening our homes (literally) and seriously caring for each other and for our community. Throwing parties for the "poor" and the mentally disabled, working to improve the local environment, helping the struggling get back on their feet. No – not one person I know of "converted" because of the church, but a lot of people made decisions to follow Christ because of it. Decisions to not walk away from the faith, decisions to return to the faith, decisions to not just go through the churchy motions any longer, decisions to devote their lives to service. That failed missional church made some serious impact for the Kingdom.
So Dan, I just want to throw my anecdotal evidence right back atcha. Missional churches are effective. It all just depends on how you define effective.