I listened to the first twenty minutes or so of the conference talk. I suppose he was a successful dude, so maybe he knows something I don’t. But after about fifteen minutes, I turned it off and started listening to Trip Lee again. Honestly, I couldn’t believe the questions the speaker was encouraging us to ask. I think the talk was about exegeting our culture or something, and he kept saying we have to ask, “What will reach them? What will hook them? What will draw them?”
I’d like to think if I’d been there, instead of just listening online, I’d have been bold enough to raise my hand and ask my very serious question. “Dude, do you realize that you sound like a junior high boy trying to score his first girlfriend?”
People who are actually attractive don’t have to ask those questions, because they are already attractive. It’s part of who they are. But those who are faking it try to be attractional. (I’m not intending to make comments on body-image issues, etc.) They pick out their clothes, style their hair, wear cologne, read magazines on how to talk a big game, etc. because they are attempting to be someone they don’t really believe they are. There is a world of difference between attractive and attractional.
My point here is that whenever churches start asking those questions and focusing on whether or not we are "attracting," we’ve moved off center. When we do this we become like the Pharisees, who were more concerned about how they were viewed than who they actually were. Maybe even more pathetically, we are like the teenage boy constantly checking out his budding muscles in the mirror in hopes that maybe this will help him finally get the girl to pay attention to him.
Attractive v. Attractional
This isn’t to say that churches should be intentionally unattractive. In fact, if churches focus on doing gospel things they will actually be naturally attractive—at least to some. The Bible gives evidence of this. Jesus attracted crowds. The disciples, too, attracted a ton of folks who were filled with questions and wondering what in the world was going on with them. There was something about the way they were living that attracted folks and caused them to wonder why in the world these Christians had such hope. They were attractive.
Though it’s a subtle difference, there is a great chasm between being an attractive church and an attractional church. One intentionally tries to draw a crowd, while the other goes about doing their ministry and the crowds show up, maybe. Jesus didn’t have healing services in hopes that people would show up. He healed people because that is who He is and people showed up as a result. The attractional model, though, draws a crowd and hopes to slip the gospel in the backdoor. One has confidence in who they are and they other is like a junior high boy who doesn’t have enough confidence in his person to drop the frills and just be himself.
Frankly, churches don’t have the time or the resources to be distracted by all the “what will draw them” questions. That’s a moving target. What draws one unbeliever will repel another. And as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, another flashy light comes along and distracts them. Attractional doesn’t work because it’s simply a veneer for insecurity. Believe the gospel or pack it up, is what I say.
A few years ago the hip thing was to talk about being missional instead of attractional. Now, I’m hearing many church leaders say that you can be both. What I think they mean is that missional doesn’t mean unattractive. What I’m saying today, though, is that an attractional model cannot fit with a gospel-centered or missional aim. Attractive, yes. Attractional, not so much.
Put your hand to the plow and start doing gospel things—preaching the gospel, healing brokenness, redeeming marriages, and the like—and you’ll be attractive. Sure, it might be the smell of death to some, but it’ll be the fragrance of life for others. If we aren’t confident in the gospel, then what in the world are we doing? Be confident in who you are. No need to give in to feelings of desperation and insecurity - we’ve got the best news ever. The story which all other beautiful stories borrow from. A message which is accompanied by the power of the One who created the sun.
Church, you don’t need to be like a junior high boy trying frantically to hook his first girlfriend. Just be you.