Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Incarnational v Attractional debate...

Van S over at MissionThink has been doing a good job of fleshing out the Hirsch and Frost material in his local context and he has published an article based on his mullings. (here)

The general jist of H&F line is that an attractional church trys to polish itself up in order for people to come to it but an incarnational church is one that goes to them.
"... by attractional, we mean that the traditional church plants itself within a particular community, neighborhood, or locale and expects that people will come to it to meet God and find fellowship with others.… By anticipating that if they get their internal features right, people will flock to the services, the church betrays its belief in attractionalism. … If we get our seating, our parking, our children's program, our preaching, and our music right, they will come. This assumes that we have a place in our society and that people dodt join our churches because, though they want to be Christians, they're unhappy with the product. The missional church recognizes that it does not hold a place of honor in its host community and that its missional imperative compels it to move out from itself into that host community as salt and light." (Hirsch and Frost 2004)
A centre based church like ours could be perceived as being attractional, whereas more emerging expressions meeting in public places etc... would be seen as being missional and therefore incarnational. But we would hate people to think that we offer our ministry to our community as a means to hide the hook as we reel people in...! We offer space in a variety of ways that people share with us as we journey together in the pain and joys that are inner city life...sounds pretty incarnational to me.

I am genuinenly attracted to the emerging church scene. I love the creativity. The freedom. The connections that they make are good for me but I'm discovering that many em. church expressions may like the 'missional incarnational' tag but in all reality some are as attractional as the instituational church from whoms clutches they suggest they have escaped. The irony remains that while some emerging concepts of church model themselves as being incarnational because they meet in public places - their motive remains to 'attract' people to their alternative 'non-embarrasing' means of doing church - which still seems pretty attractional to me? There are some healthy looking exceptions to this - not intentionally critical - analysis.

It could be that a group of disenfrainchaised believers meeting under a new emerging 'missional frainchaise' with video loops, ancient-modern icons washed down with Coldplay and Moby actually in terms of incarnational influence in their community are as removed from community as how they perceive the institutional churches they left for their new adventure. And actually the label they hang on to and like to buzz and bound around in slick HTML leaves them more an oxymoron than the missional incarnational church they crave to be.

So what is the measure of incarnational influence? Perhaps it is more a 'state of mind'. Perhaps more a question of motive than a question of substance. An attitude. Perhaps more a question of the reality of mission than simply rhetoric.
  • So you are a missional incarnational expression of church - who would miss you if you weren't there anymore?
  • So you are a missional incarnational expression of church - who is it you find yourselves ministering to.. people like you?
  • So you are a missional incarnational expression of church - what point has there been to your existence - for whose benefit?
  • So you are a missional incarnational expression of church - How dirty have you got trying to be transforming influence in your community?
  • So you are a missional incarnational expression of church - Why do you do what you do - to embody the gospel by standing up for true love, justice and grace?
Maybe there are more questions to be asked. 'Attractional' v 'Incarnational' I am drawn to the sentiment but I not sure it is as easily defined.


Anonymous said...


once again very thought provoking thoughts. I think we all ponder over how we can really be a true incarnational expression of church. it does mean getting dirty, it does mean stepping over the line to truly love those that are outside the Kingdom of God and keep on loving them even when it hurts. It does mean being a true part of your community......

Thanks again for the spur on...


Yadah said...

Thanks for this post. Our church is trying to ask itself some of these very questions. I can see that we have embedded ourselves in the attractional side of things, but we really aren't that "attractive" to start with. I'd like to see us move over to a more incarnational side of things, but I know that it will mean our people (including me) will have to rethink how we live our daily lives. Our pastor once preached that the garage door opener was the most relationship killing thing to be created lately. People don't have to get out of their cars and visit with the neighbors anymore. They just hit the garage door opener, watch the garage door open (from a closed window car), drive into the garage and close the garage door (with the remote garage door control). Almost everyone I know has one of those garage door openers.

It's pretty hard to move from one missional perspective to another. I wonder if there could be both working at the same time? I'm thinking that in the small midwestern (US) town I grew up in, we were both. And to think that we didn't have all these "statements" to help us know how to "be"!?!

Van S said...

Great post. I don't think that it is meeting in a public place versus meeting in a church building that defines incarnational ministry. An incarnational church "goes into the cracks" of society more, whereas the attractional church is more interested in gathering a crowd. And it must be said that a healthy "attractional church" may be deeply invested into the lives of its people and be much healthier than an "incarnational church" that goes to the cracks of society without love.

Gordon said...

ALL - Thanks for useful thoughts. Making a difference in a way that points beyond us I guess is the key.

GordonG said...

Hi Gordon

Interesting post, and I wanted to follow thru with VanS's material, but kept getting a 404 error. Have you any idea why?



Gordon said...

looks like he is blogging at

now, maybe you can find the stuff there?