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Missional Effectiveness

2008 December 4
by Julie Clawson

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.

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34 Responses leave one →
  1. lisa c permalink
    December 4, 2008

    Julie- Amen! I have always been distrubed by this notion of conversion, almost as though we are counting. Yet, in our missional community I have found myself re-converted if you will- the word I always use is transformed. The problem is that missional communities are not “viable” in the current model of church- paid staff, buildings. I continue to wonder if that isn’t pointing us to a new model that is absent some of these. Thanks for a great post.


  2. December 4, 2008

    Another reality to consider is that it’s not always unchurched, non-Christians that attractional churches pull in. Perhaps that’s the case for Dan’s church since he happens to be in a very post-Christian area, but I know that in other places (say in the South Barrington region of Chicagoland) the growth of the big attractional churches can be directly correlated with the decline of smaller churches in the area who can’t afford all the flashy programs. Of course, I want people to go to whatever church is best for them, but at the same time, we shouldn’t necessarily assume that growth always equals converts.

  3. December 5, 2008

    mike brings up an important point about attractional churches attracting those from other churches rather than primarily the unchurched. sally morgenthaler talked about this in her book worship evangelism years ago. as for finances i think we are probably moving to new (bivocational?) models for the emerging-missional church. at least that is the direction i know the Lord is leading me when i eventually do the pastor thing. there will probably need to be many models for pastors to support themselves in these changing times.

    also, i’m a bit skeptical of the missional movement as a) it’s the latest trend that a lot of folks seem to be jumping on and b) i’m not totally convinced many in the movement really understand it is about more than just a focus on evangelism or reaching outward. when i read the ‘friend of missional’ site, which is great, it sounds more like what the emerging conversation was when it started out.

  4. December 5, 2008

    Great post Julie… I’ve always had trouble with drawing such a clear distinction between the two ideas. I don’t see mission and attraction as mutually exclusive. If your church markets and advertises itself, does that make your lifestyle away from “church on Sunday” less missional?

    What I find funny is that if any missional church grows beyond 200 or so, they get labeled by other missional leaders as attractional. So they make Dan’s view (that missional churches don’t grow) correct by their own definition.

  5. December 5, 2008


    Very good post.

  6. December 5, 2008

    great post. yeah, converts to what? or, adding numbers is a good thing? that’s absolutely NOT how jesus measured ANYTHING. EVER.
    and – the community you were with up north? it completely worked. so it didn’t have the various kinds of numbers to pay y’all’s salaries? but that doesn’t mean it “failed.” journey ifc’s broke all the time … and families are broke lots of the time … but what’s most important is what happens in the middle. in the spaces in between.
    i guess it’s a discussion, at the macro level, about what the best kind of churches will be in the upcoming generation/s. but i’m getting tired of the whole question – i just want to be with people and see what god cooks. if that’s in a large setting, good; if it’s in a small setting, good; if there’s a “church” involved, good, and if not, that’s fine too ….

  7. December 5, 2008

    Julie–To be fair, Dan didn’t stop at converts he also talked about disciples. Yes maybe the data gets skewed as missional numbers grow. I certainly don’t know of any missional group that doesn’t want growth. And, many of the questions you (and several of the comments) raise about actractional fellowships can use some examining. We are better with a both/and model.

  8. December 5, 2008

    A good friend was pressured out as pastor of his church because he was not willing to engage in the latest church growth gimmicks. He strongly believed that if we loved God, one another, and our neighbors, in tangible ways, that this would attract people. He was unwilling to do a 40 Days of Purpose campaign when that was the rage in evangelical circles.

    He did not see himself in competition with other churches. His denomination did. His elders did. So he is now a pastor without a congregation. Sad.

  9. December 5, 2008

    I have two responses to reading this (and Dan Kimball’s entry this is a response to):

    1. This challenges a preconception I wasn’t aware I had. I had conflated “missional” and “emerging” into a single, or at least similar, group. Kimball is, as most here I’m sure know, very much in favor of the “emerging church” movement, and has written works on the subject that still continue to help those who may not yet understand the movement understand what is going on. It seems that he may not be so enthusiastic about the “missional” movement. Clearly, these two are not as closely linked as I had unwittingly presupposed.

    2. Kimball’s entry seems less a reaction against the “missional” movement, per se, and more a reaction against the perceived attacks “missional” people send against “attractional” churches. Note his early sentence: “But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the “attractional” model of church as ineffective.” I think his reaction against this “further step” is at the heart of everything else he’s writing here, especially his appeal to numbers and data.

    But, ultimately, he seems less to be saying “‘missional’ hasn’t proven their point” (as if to say that numbers are all-important), but more to be saying “‘missional’ doesn’t have the evidence to support that they are any more effective than ‘attractional.'” Clearly, he would seem to argue, the “attractional” model is (also?) viable, and indeed has at least enough data to back it up to refute the “missional attack” that it’s “ineffective.”

    But as has already been noted, all this certainly depends on how one defines “effective.”

  10. December 5, 2008


    The missional model (IMHO) is more consistent with the “go” and tell mandate we’re all familiar with.


  11. Dianne P permalink
    December 5, 2008

    I’m afraid that the word “missional” has become just another marketing tool to emblazon on a church’s website. We recently left a “missional” church that didn’t seem very missional in its practice. Unfortunately, you have to spend some time inside a church before you can evaluate if its walk lines up with its talk. A couple of observations that might apply to others…

    1. This whole missional vs attractional model generates an unpleasant “us vs them” agenda – an emphasis on either/or rather than both/and. The pastor often preached that we were NOT a “come and see” church but rather a “show and go” church. I understand how you can be the former and not the latter, but fail to understand how you can be the latter and not the former. I’m all about taking God INTO the world, but if we’re not also growing and deepening the church as a place of spiritual community and calling people to be a part of our community/ church, then any fruit is incomplete (heh, heh – unripe?). Ironically, the worship service at this church was very much “come and see” – happy-clappy Christian rock, good musicians and singers, hi-tech sound system, slick video presentations, comic skits, uber-casually dressed pastors, short and snappy sermons.

    2.With no physical building (what? a place? we’re “missional” – we don’t need no stinkin’ building! we’re not that shallow!), there was no place to build community or grow disciples. Once a month “clusters” were supposed to do the trick. though most attendees were not even part of any cluster. There was a reflexive rejection of anything that could be called a “program”, no matter who it reached or served. Our “missional” mandate came down to a) attend Sunday service and b)now go home and be nice to your neighbor. Sometimes they even handed out slips of paper with a prayer so that you could remind yourself daily to be Jesus in your own corner of the world.

    BTW, this was not a small house church – Sunday attendance in a school gym of around 450-500 (interestingly, used to be 550 – 600 about a year ago).

    I don’t mean this to simply be a rant on my frustration in trying to find a church home in a new town that actually IS missional… but my experience can’t be unique. I totally relate to Kimball’s piece in the need to ask the question of any church – where’s the fruit? And I don’t think that you have to a priori define “fruit” in order to answer the question. Different churches can produce different fruit – some will bring new converts to Jesus, some will grow disciples, maybe some will minister to the homeless, some to the divorced, some to the grieving, some to the lonely… Doesn’t matter imo. But I do think that slapping “missional” on your masthead does NOT mean that once you’ve self-identified as “cool” (ie, missional) you get to sit back and stop asking the question – where is our fruit?

  12. Paul Walker permalink
    December 5, 2008

    Really good post Julie

    I think you nailed the key question : ‘Conversion, to what…?’

  13. December 5, 2008

    The first problem is the whole notion of “counting” heads as a measure of success. This is a typical Western. American way of judging success. If I have more eggs in my basket than you that means I am a more successful egg-gatherer than you.

    Numbers were never meant to be the means of judging failure or success with spiritual matters. If it was, at the time of his death, Jesus was definitely a failure. And for all the Day of Pentecost stories in Acts, we are presented with a Church that primarily was small and met in homes. Failures, by today’s standard.

    While labels like missional and attractional can be helping in framing discussion, they are really meaningless in determining the “success” of a Church.

    The true measure of any Church is are they being faithful to the gospel and are they. as a community, maturing in the teachings of Christ.

    I pastored one country Church where I had 600 converts over 6-8 years. I preached, gave altar calls, and people were “saved” Typical Baptist way of doing things.

    Yet the Church never was larger than 200 or so (which was large in the rural area where we lived) What happened to all the converts? Good question. I fear many of them fell under the power of my “great” preaching and slick techniques. :) and not the power of the Holy Spirit.

    This is seen in many Southern Baptist Churches in particular. 3000 members and 500 in attendance. Numbers become meaningless.

    We need to stop counting and starting living.


  14. December 5, 2008

    wow – lots of responses. I’ve been out all day and can’t comment now… but I’ll get back later…

  15. December 5, 2008


    You bring up really good points. To me, being a church with an attractional model is so last century and modern! :) This style of church does encourage more consumption of the product of Christianity.

    Whereas a missional church cares more about authenticity and building deep relationships both inside and outside the church. Who cares about numbers anyways? That’s a corporate and consumer mentality.

    Attractional models remind me of fast food for church. People come in droves but don’t necessarily find sustenance.

    Good thoughts here. Thanks.

    Warm Regards,


  16. December 5, 2008

    P.S. i found you linked at Jonny Baker’s blog.

  17. December 5, 2008

    i thought everyone knew that organic fruit taste’s better these day’s. I mean we all actually know it right. Just most of us either don’t want to pay extra, wait longer or we’re just put off by all the mud and mess.

  18. December 5, 2008

    I think you’ve really hit the nerve center of this whole thing. Success isn’t measured by an quantitative data but by names and stories.

    As such, the Attractional model works, but only in the way Sam’s Club or Wal-mart works. The call to a missional life is a big step–a huge one, and one that for me (and most others I imagine) comes with wrestling with this stuff for years and seeing the harm done by the attractional model.

    I think Dan lost some sight of that in the post–the call to discipleship is freeing, but it is radical in our Americonsumer culture. i’m not sure but what missional isn’t the reaction and the landing place for the people who look past the Stained Glass Jesus to the one who proclaims freedom to captives, justice for the poor and sight to the blind.

  19. December 5, 2008

    At least Kimball isn’t making the mistake I’ve seen some doing of simply equating “missional” with old style evangelism. To me it has a lot more to do with bringing the kingdom of God to earth – i.e. working for justice and love in the world – than simply with saving people from hell, and Dan seems to make this distinction too. However, he does seem to mistake missional with a particular style or approach. Missional doesn’t have to mean small, or organic, or house church or whatever – you can have large and growing missional churches, even churches with “programs” (Mars Hill in Michigan comes to mind). Likewise, just because you are small or organic or based in homes doesn’t automatically make you missional either. The issue is what your efforts are directed towards. Are your programs or your organic house meetings for the purpose of blessing others outside of your own faith community, or are your efforts simply directed at blessing yourselves and convincing more people to come join your church?

  20. December 5, 2008

    Julie, exactly! Well said. As long as numbers (of any kind)are the only evidence, then missional will not win. Actually, neither will attractional. Sports events or raves attract more people, so maybe churches ought to be more like those events. Or, hey, if what we’re after is getting people to sign up, let’s do Facebook church where we’re all in superficial relationships with our “friends.” Lots of ways to drive the numbers. Not many ways to follow Jesus. Actually, only one.

  21. December 6, 2008

    Funny you should mention Facebook, Chuck. I’m working on a post about “on-line Church”. When I came to work this evening I left my 19 year old son in the middle of a Facebook conversation about the difference between being Godly and being judgmental. Last night he spent an hour talk/writing to a woman (artist) about gay rights, abortion, and listening to people’s stories. Superficial–some, maybe even most are. But, it kind of goes to the point of the danger of judging the whole by the few. Missional, atractional, emerging, traditional–let’s keep the good in each.

  22. December 6, 2008


    When it comes to attractional versus missional, I’m a “both/and” kind of guy. However, we do have to press through with deeper questions as culture, meanings, community morph from old paradigms that were gendered and consumeristic. There are strengths and weaknesses in both–reflecting the local community and the larger social dynamics. Some good attractional churches for example, contributed to women in leadership roles–and women in those attractional models found a new level of freedom even if some of those models presented an idealized/consumeristic version of what the feminine self looked like.

  23. December 6, 2008

    I would love to think that the label “attractional” would be subsumed into the label “missional,” for Jesus attracted people by calling them to mission. I think there is a false dichotomy here that hampers our call to be effective followers of Christ.

  24. December 6, 2008

    okay, sick kid at home preventing me commenting earlier, so here we go…

    lisa – I fully agree, new models of church are needed. the old structures are just easier to fall into, but they force us into paths that aren’t always best.

    linda – you’re right – to many missional just means evangelism, or how we can get more butts in the seats instead of an entirely different perspective on what it means to be church. It is a trendy words, but it is also a reminder of much of what we have lost.

    rick – thanks for the encouragement. and yes, sometimes just doing it is the best path to follow.

    gary – that’s story is sad. the idea of being in competition with other churches is absurd.

    Mark B-W – yes – missional and emerging can mean different things, heck emerging itself means various things. And you make a good point in the distinction that Dan was challending the critiques of attractional churches. Missionals say that attractional ploys don’t rightly represent the gospels, so he pointed out that attractions are growing faster and so must be better. so my response at least is – that doesn’t necessarily follow. of course they grow faster, but that doesn’t make them better especially if the real nature of that growth is examined.

    Dianne – I think the church isn’t the place for such discussions or creating us vs them camps. the church should just do. unfortunately there are going to be people pushing for numbers (the denomination) and members wondering why the church is spending so much money on servive projects and not on bells and whistle kids programs for their children. They are going to ask the pastor to “feed them more” and stop pushing them to serve. At some point the basic philosophy of church will have to be discussed.

    matybigfro – fantastic analogy

    Trey – the whole names and stories thing versus numbers is the tension. its convincing those with a consumer mindset of that which is proving to be difficult.

    Chuck – great line “Lots of ways to drive the numbers. Not many ways to follow Jesus.”

    Dan – yes there is good in both and traditions (good and bad) have come out of both. I think though that dismissing churches that are serious about following christ because they aren’t multiplying misses the point and harms the body of christ.

    Adam – I would love that too. but do you really think that we will ever reach a point when self-sacrifice becomes attractive to the average american?

  25. December 6, 2008

    I have made an index of the various comments related to Kimball’s post in the blogosphere.

    Following Dan Kimball’s Missional vs. Megachurch conversation

  26. Scott M permalink
    December 6, 2008

    I’ve followed this discussion here and read most of the posts/articles elsewhere engaging the discussion from one directional or another. The iMonk even has his Liturgical Gangstas weighing in on some of the underpinning assumptions behind this conversation.

    And I have to admit I’m a little puzzled. So, rather than jump in directly and try to address this head on when I admittedly don’t believe I understand the dynamics or core issues, I’m going to comment tangentially from my own experience and understanding. If it doesn’t seem to the rest of you to be relevant to the topic, I apologize.

    The post-Christendom West is not really the same as the early (or even present-day) pagan cultures Christianity has engaged. While my formative years cannot be reduced to a sentence or two, post-Christendom is certainly one label that could validly be applied to them. And it would be difficult to find anyone formed within a post-Christendom context who does not have some awareness of Christianity. I say that to say that this does make it different from those initial forays into unevangelized ‘pagan’ contexts. I don’t often hear that aspect raised and perhaps it should be explored a bit more than it is.

    Even so, I stand with one foot still standing in the culture which formed and shaped me and another standing within the culture of the Kingdom of this strange God by which I am trying to be reshaped, and as I look at the history and nature of the Church, I’m not sure anything has substantially changed in what we ought to do and how we ought to live. (How’s that for a run-on sentence? Yes, that reflects how thoughts form in my mind if I simply let the words tumble out.)

    Our work when we gather is to worship God and to instantiate as much of the glory and beauty of his Kingdom, of the ‘real’ and ‘true’ reality, as we can. And as we work together to ourselves be nourished and equipped and strengthened by God. We are engaged in actively creating a ‘thin place’, a place where the veil between the reality of heaven and the reality of earth is scraped away. The time and place become an intersection where the heaven becomes present, the past (especially the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus) becomes present, and the future (esp. what we call the ‘Second Coming’) rushes back to meet us. And by living together in that moment, we are shaped into the Body of Jesus, and equipped to live. Or at least, I can see no other reason given in Scripture or history.

    So I’m not sure that such a meeting has ever been or even can be focused toward those who do not yet follow Jesus. Now, it is true that some may be intrigued, awed, or drawn to the beauty of our worship (which begs a question for any tradition which is not and which may intend not to be beautiful), but that is not the focus of what is happening. (I’m reminded of the stories of the impact the Hagia Sophia had on slavonic envoys once upon a time.) Nor is what is happening merely to ‘feed’ (a strange term I hear a lot) or equip the followers, though that is part of it. It is not merely something we receive, but part of our work in our present reality.

    It is from the heart of that worship that the people of God, the body of Christ, the Church are sent out to live moment to moment in that reality. We acknowledge that we live under the rule of Jesus and obey his commands as we proclaim that he is in fact the Lord of all. I think how that looks has and will end up looking somewhat different for each of us based on who we contact in our daily lives.

    If we live and work primarily among those who do at least say they agree with us that Jesus is Lord and God, then it seems we will primarily be involved, as we obey Jesus’ commands, in being people who, by working out our salvation in all seriousness, are also among the tools the Spirit will use in helping others work out their own salvation.

    If, on the other hand, we live and work primarily among those who do not acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, then as we obey the same commands of Jesus in the manner in which we interact with them, some will be drawn to the one we call Lord. Jesus is fascinating and the life of his followers when they obey his commands is hard to understand from any other perspective. But love — true love — is compelling. It always has been.

    But I’m not sure we ever adapt to a particular context or ‘contextualize’ as I’ve heard it put. There’s something about that which strikes me as horribly inauthentic and manipulative. Rather, we are always people shaped by a culture striving to be reshaped by the culture of the Kingdom of God. We don’t somehow lose our formative culture because we follow Jesus. (I’m not sure that’s even possible.) But our new culture begins to alter and change those parts of our old culture that don’t fit in the Kingdom.

    I’m not sure where in this discussion that places me. What I see and understand doesn’t seem to really fit either ‘side’.

  27. December 6, 2008

    Julie —

    If I may venture a response to your question for Adam, as I had a similar thought to his.

    No, I don’t think self-sacrifice is all that attractive given the framing story of consumeristic America. But, it is incredibly attractive from inside a different framing story, namely that of the gospel, which is from where Christ calls people to follow him, or so it seems to me. I think the gospel is attractive, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. When we embody Christ’s way in the world, I believe we are a living prayer that those with whom we engage would have just those ears and eyes. So the question could be not only conversion to what, but also attraction to what?

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