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attractionalSay not, "Why were the former days better than these?"
-- Ecclesiastes 7:10a

From my vantage point in the evangelical landscape, I am incredibly optimistic about the future of the church. I know we have lots of cause for concern about “the culture,” and I know the church tasked with proclaiming the kingdom in it seems pretty shaky right now. But I when I take a sober look at the young Christians (the millennials!) training for gospel ministry and thinking hard about mission, I like where their head’s at. The rest of us, on the other hand . . .

I find it incredibly interesting, sort of amusing, and more than a bit sad that the attractional church--what we used to call the “seeker church”--hasn’t seemed to grow up at all. Yes, it’s grown big. But growing big and growing up aren’t the same thing. I was thinking about this recently after a few people posted a video of one of the landmark attractional churches featuring a ’90s boy band throwback segment in their worship service. I’m sure it was a lot of fun. I’m also sure it was especially fun for those whose heyday was the ’90s. It’s the same fun that was had by the worship team in my ’90s attractional youth group who were constantly reworking rock hits from the ’70s to make them more Jesusy (“Peaceful, Easy Feelin,” anybody? How about a little “Talkin’ about my Jesus--he’s some kind of wonderful”?).

And it occurs to me that, exceptions being granted, the attractional church is specifically designed for what was said to “work” 20 years ago. What used to be cutting edge, relevant, and innovative is now standard fare. I mean, how many years can you keep recycling the At The Movies summer series and still call yourselves “innovative”? Or Winning at Work? Or Dare to Be a Daniel? How many pop song parodies can you generate and still call yourselves relevant? The truth is, the attractional church is perfectly contextualized . . . for the ’90s. With its Top 40 covers, Branson-quality “praise teams,” silly videos, and youth-groupy vibe, it’s now officially retro-relevant.

When you step into one of these places after years away detoxing, it’s like stepping into a time warp. The sensation is similar to when in the ’80s and ’90s we’d go back home to grandma’s church, which seemed frozen in the ’60s or ’70s. The attractional church is the happy-fun place where the post-Christian era never dawned.

Meanwhile, the young adult dropout rate is still somewhere near 70 percent. This hasn’t changed.

Meanwhile, no matter how much the decision scoreboard tallies each week, the attractional church is still mostly just shuffling around bored and de-churched suburbanites.

The Uncle Rico set loves the attractional church. I remember when our attractional churches would advertise with the slogan “Not your grandfather’s church.” Or “Church but different.” Well, now the attractional church is our grandfather’s church. Now it’s church replicated, McChurch franchised. And while the younger generation is looking for meat, the religious resource center down on the corner is still serving rounds of Zima. And it may not be shrinking any time soon, because there’s few things Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers love more than nostalgia.

There’s something serious to be considered here. I’m not just trying to make fun. Time and relevance have passed the dominant attractional paradigm by. The sheer mega-ness of these religious big box stores is misleading. Because the research is showing they aren’t making disciples. And as the spread of secularization increases in America, the irrelevance of the “relevant church” will only increase, as well. These days you can get fluff anywhere. You can get entertainment anywhere. You can get inspirational pick-me-ups anywhere.

The attractional church is still answering questions most 21st-century lost folks aren’t even asking. The attractional church is still assuming lost people have some working knowledge of the Bible and its stories. The attractional church still thinks lost people are impressed that a group of Christians will sing a Taylor Swift song at church. The attractional church thinks their decades-old bait is still good for the switch. The attractional church still thinks it’s cool, mainly because it’s full of aging Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who know it’s cooler than the traditional church they left decades ago.

Meanwhile, it’s the traditionalist churches that are attracting young people. (Man, youth is wasted on the young, right?) It’s the young church-planting movements that are baptizing previously unchurched people and replicating themselves and making kingdom inroads in the culture. It’s the Bible-fixated churches sending people into the furthest reaches of the earth.

I hope my generation and my father’s generation will allow themselves to be led. Our time is, thankfully, passing away. These crazy evangelical kids who love Jesus, love his gospel and center on it stubbornly, love his sufficient Word and preach it faithfully, love the lost and go seek them rather than expecting them to come seek us--they’re our strategic hope. Maybe it’s time to take the self-diminishing risks necessary to question your system, your strategy, your models and listen to the wisdom of your kids. As even one of your own prophets has said:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

This testimony is true.

I’d cue up Whitney Houston’s lines about the children being our future, but that would just date me and contravene my whole point. Instead, let me simply reiterate that the growing gospel-centrality of the evangelical millennials is the best “model” for the church in the 21st century, mainly because it prioritizes the timeless gospel and makes contextualization obey it, rather than, as is the attractional church’s tendency, making the gospel obey the contextualization. I look around at all these seminary students I have the great privilege of serving, and as I travel around and meet young Christians all over the country, I am incredibly encouraged. In terms of theology, ecclesiology, and missiology, they are light-years ahead of where my generation was at their age.

So it’s time to grow up and pass the baton. Size and the whiff of success are no justification for missional irrelevance.

Or, we can do what we’ve always done, I guess, which is just turn the music up to drown out the reality.

Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.
-- Ecclesiastes 4:13


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Comments:


43 thoughts on “The Attractional Church’s Growing Irrelevance”

  1. RobertA says:

    I simply disagree. Other than quoting a scare stat, there isn’t much here other than inference and conjecture.

    The dropout rate isn’t 70%, we need to stop using that statistic. When pollsters are asking about question they aren’t seeking to understand how people attend church but rather using an out modded framework. So, for instance, when a young adult is asked if they attend church they aren’t asked how frequently or what other Christian activity is in their lives, but if they attend regularly. Many young adults, due to studies and new careers struggle in consistency. This doesn’t mean they’ve left. While we are losing a high percentage of young adults, it isn’t nearly 70%. Likewise, the young adults who do leave are leaving all kinds of church, including the traditional models. (Frankly if we include the mainline denominations the traditional models are seeing more leave than attractional models.) One of the good trends though is that when young adults, who have left or have dropped in consistency, do return they are returning to attractional model churches with progressive worship. Not the traditional model promoted by the author here.

    Maybe we can see a more generous spirit about different models and not the chiding, harsh tone that is replicated in the article. When the majority of Christians in America attend large, attractional model churches, maybe it is worth it to have some reticence about their role in our culture. Good things are happening there and we are seeing many lives changed for the Kingdom.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Robert, thanks for the comment. You left it very quickly after this published. Are you sure you read the whole thing?

      As for the 70% stat — I stand by it, as my sources do. Here’s Ed Stetzer talking about it, nuances and all.

      More data with sources is readily available for the claims in this post, e.g. attractional megachurches mostly just recycling members and not actually reaching many unchurched. Efforst like Willow’s own REVEAL survey show they aren’t discipling folks like they thought. I wrote a whole book about this stuff called “The Prodigal Church,” if you’re interested.

      As for your last claim, that most American Christians attend attractional churches, that is demonstrably false. (I would first note that this post is not against “big churches.” I think size is neutral.) The research, both religious and secular, shows that while the number of megachurches (of all kinds) are growing, they are still statistically a minority. The vast majority of churches in America run less than 300 people. And church attendance across the board is declining, anyway.

      But most of this post is spiritual analysis, yes. You can call it chiding. But I know from experience that the attractional folks aren’t much listening anyway. They write off every criticism, if they even listen to it. I am only trying to express in their own language that the relevance jig is up.

      1. Bob Smith says:

        Frankly, for me, the issue comes down to the Steve Buscemi picture on the article. There will never be an actor more relevant than him. So unfortunately, the picture chosen illustrates the opposite of the point the article was seeking to make. I’m always torn between which performance as a lunatic was better: his role in Con Air, or his role in Armageddon. Both were Oscar worthy – and both times he was snubbed. Being the gentleman he is, he of course took the high road and didn’t make a big deal about it. :)

        Great article, Jared – excellent insights as always.

      2. Matthew says:

        Elijah thought he was the only one out there too. God works even when we think he isn’t. The seeker church is not the ideal, and certainly not my cup of tea. It does not deserve such harsh criticism, as long as it does not compromise truth, it is still legitimate.

        1. Jack says:

          It does compromise truth. Many times the Gospel is nowhere to be found.

      3. Tom says:

        “Are you sure you read the whole thing?”

      4. Tony Seel says:

        I’m looking at who is planting churches and who is reaching younger folks, and it isn’t traditional churches. I pastor a traditional church that has seen a small amount of growth over the last four years, but I also see attractional churches growing more and planting churches.

        1. Meg I. says:

          I hope you don’t consider churches like The Summit in Raleigh/Durham or The Village in Flower Mound, Texas as attractional. They are traditional in message, meaning keep the Gospel the main thing.

          1. Jared C. Wilson says:

            Meg, nope, I don’t. I do not equate “attractional” with “megachurch” and don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with large churches per se. There are some great big churches that endeavor for gospel-centeredness — like The Village and Summit — and there are small churches that have swallowed the attractional consumerism and pragmatism. Thanks for the good question and allowing me to clarify.

        2. MichaelA says:

          So both traditional AND attractional churches are growing and planting new churches?

          That sounds like a good thing!

          1. Tony Seel says:

            I’m not sure that there are a lot of trad churches that are planting new churches.

    2. Steven Allen says:

      So if the number isn’t 70%, then what is it? And your sources, please. Thanks.

  2. Youth Pastor says:

    As a youth pastor working at a church that fits the bill on what you’re criticizing, I have to reluctantly agree. The sad truth is that many in leadership at these types of churches even realize they’re missing the boat, but when you look out and see 1000+ people in the seats, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing alright.

    1. Donovan says:

      ^^That^^. Couldn’t agree more! This also goes for “worship” bands as well. Just because you have an encased crowd that forcibly applauds when you tell them to “Give God a hand” doesnt mean youre good…so please…stop.

  3. D. Sims says:

    I want to agree with you in this article and in principle I really do. I do believe that in certain parts of society we will see millennials in a different light. At your particular university I am sure there are many millennials who are sober minded and gospel focused in a fresh and relevant way. I have found even within certain denomination millennials are not all the same. Ever since millennials have become a huge topic of discussion over the years I personally have not seen the authentic desires they insist on in ministry come to light in the circles I minister in. Working in the inner city and among the poor we come close to begging ( not fully) the local Christian university students to come and help us make disciples and to no avail. They are still flocking to the local mega-church where the sound stage is nothing short of a Disney land world of special effects. Our old warehouse will only draw two to three students every year out of thousands.

    Then you have the statistics that 60% plus of Evangelical Jr. high students believe homosexuality is normal. That the Bible is the inspired Word of God is declining in perception along with over 80% own a bible but only 25% plus even have a general bible reading program a week, you end up with a little more sober view of Christendom as a whole.

    Bottom line for me is still the bottom line that I believe God has always proclaimed. In all classes of our society in Christendom God will always have a remnant. Those that live outwardly what is birthed by the Spirit inwardly. I will gladly listen to anyone of any age share where their head is at, their sober intentions to walk in spirit and truth but the proof will always be found in the accompanying actions and fruit. As with all of us, every generation may be pushing a new envelope for Jesus with zeal and excitement but if it is not grounded in the only foundation that has been laid then it will turn out to be just another form of man’s endeavors and end up becoming less than Christ to the world around us.

    Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ ~ Jeremiah 6:16

  4. Eric Baldwin says:

    If the traditional churches are attracting the young people then wouldn’t they be able to use the slogan “Not your parent’s church” or “Church but different.”

    1. Tony Seel says:

      They can’t, because the traditional churches are Uncle Rico.

  5. John says:

    While I agree with most of the article, I’m not so sure about the categorization of generations and which is more Biblically sounded, Gospel focused. Who exactly are the Baby Boomers and who are these Millennials? I suppose it depends on geography; personally, I see more of the millennials involved with and drawn to the cotton candy, Starbucks, Six Flags style of attractions church than I do those in in the Boomer generation (typically 52 or older).

    Perhaps you’re confusing Boomers with the generation who came next…those who desire the ear tickling and entertainment, those who’s youth groups prude themselves on silly peanut butter armpit licking games.

    Then again, it’s the likes of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels who gave us the seeker movement which the Millennials grew up with and generally are attracted to.

    Of course, there are exceptions to every generation.

    1. Jack says:

      Warren and Hybles ARE baby boomers and the people they attracted were boomers also. We’re talking the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

      1. Tony Seel says:

        Jack, the attractional model has changed since Hybels started the seeker church movement. The writer is correct that some things have not changed – the God and Movies series is a still a staple in some places. The music has changed and the presentation has changed. More attention is being paid in a number of places to discipleship after evangelism. The small groups approach has matured. Even Hybels has changed after their famous self-study at Willow.

  6. Joanne Griffin says:

    Jesus is the only Seeker, lest we think for our many prayers and loud music we can turn sheep into seekers. No, we are told to go out, in His power, to seek and to save the lost lambs. The Church should be home and shelter for all the lambs we are actively engaging with, serving in love with humility and deeds. When we serve them, they get thirsty for Living Water and will come, obediently, to the Source. Restless hearts long for the changeless culture of home, of the Holy Family. Build not bigger barns, but a stronger sense of family.

    Besides, as someone wiser than I said, “What you win them with, you have to keep them with,” which is why seeker services feel so awkward Ten Years After.

  7. John Lambert says:

    Gen Xers are just coming into their own in senior leadership positions in the church at large. Yes, it is time to grow up, but not to step aside. That is where the Boomers are right now.

  8. I think its fair to say that your autobiography, Jared, informs this piece quite a bit.

    I resonate with your preferences for how church should look and be done. But I’ve never been a part of a church that’s more than 100 people. It’s frustrating to be a smaller church. Especially when I see seeker-sensitive, attractions style ones growing around me. (Although I suspect the culture up here is a bit different. Mega-churches aren;t quite so mega as they might be in Tennessee or wherever).

    What gives me pause is being involved with Christians from across my city. Both pastors and laity. I’ve got major reservations against seeker stuff, and often the silliness in worship. But I’ve met too many believers deeply committed to the growth of the Gospel in our city, the poor, the Bible, and prayer to give myself completely over to my biases. I’m talking real saints here.

    I’m not saying I disagree with you – I don’t – but I’ve had lots of experiences that give me pause.

    1. Tony Seel says:

      Thank you, Steve, for bringing some reality to this discussion.

  9. James says:

    I’ll agree to a certain extent as well though my recent experiences with a church plant that is primarily made of millenials colors my opinion in a slightly less positive light. Their zeal to be gospel-centered is commendable and seeing the outworking of that in my city among the least of us is very encouraging. The young people are gracious, loving and willing to go into hard places to share the gospel. They are also hungry to learn about theology.

    Now what about the negative. Everyone I’ve interacted with all had some exposure to the church – either growing up in one or occasionally visiting one for holidays. Perhaps that’s unfair but being a 5 year old church plant that has outstripped the size of my “traditional” confessional church – that’s the majority of stories I’ve heard. The worship service is orderly but is more like a rock concert in terms of volume and song choice. Their low view of the Lord’s Supper is troublesome since “fencing the table” seems like an inconvenience having had done so twice within the year I visited. How they say their preaching is expositional when it skews more towards being topical and geared for application. In turn, the discernment among the congregation so far appears to be lacking as word-of-faith lite preaching is deemed being solid and biblical to their ears. Additionally, as a “younger” gen-x male, the almost complete utter absence of older, wiser saints in the congregation is problematic. A leadership primarily composed of fellow millenials, while not necessarily bad, makes me question the wisdom of their particular practices as well as their defenses of such.

  10. Zed Kolk says:

    Jesus is the only way to the Father, but there are many ways to Jesus. There are many people coming to Christ through the modern church. There are also many people coming to Christ through the traditional church. It’s not one against the other. If the world only had the type of church that is working for the most people then we would be missing out on reaching a whole lot of unchurched people. We need traditional, contemporary, and modern churches.

  11. sean carlson says:

    Attended an attractional church where the preaching was actually quite solid. The music however…It struck me as a christian attempt to mimic a rock concert. The ear plugs offered at the worship entrance should have been a clue. I’m sorry to say I found this worship both sad & laughable.

  12. Several years ago, as I prayed backstage with the worship leaders who included my daughter getting ready to lead a two hour worship service at one of these so called attractional churches, the Lord gave me a vision In this vision, I saw a street sweeper sweeping up the debris left lying in the street. My initial understanding was that this was the younger generation Who were sweeping up the debris left from their parents and even before them. The children of the 60s and 70s. After having spent almost a year in the book of acts I now see that vision in a new way. I believe these new younger churches resemble the early church and the traditional churches of the day resemble the Pharisees. God is doing a new thing. The message has not changed but is making a stronger impact As individuals are meeting people on their level rather than rising above them dressed in their finest.

  13. Bill says:

    Interesting points in the article. As someone who grew up died in the wool Methodist, it was the Methodist Church that left the bible in many regards that compelled me to leave the denomination. The same can be said about many old denominations. I think the decline of denominationalism and the rise of the non/inter-denominational church has a lot to do with this. Many of the traditions have been lost as many people left their churches to hear solid Biblical teaching, which wasis being offered at many of these “attractional churches” as you call them. There is nothing wrong with preaching the gospels in a way that relates to the audience. I suspect we won’t see the end of the coffee shop in the entry way church and a return to old timey worship, the next evolution will be something else. I do agree that many believing millennials are attracted to more of a “high worship” model (they are starving for the hymns they are hearing for the first time without rock music), but I don’t see the old Methodist Church (or Episcopalian, or PCUSA etc.) coming back to full authority of the word anytime soon.

  14. As a baby boomer, my wife and I have been heavily involved in the “Seeker Movement” since Bill Hybels and Rick Warren and even Robert Schuller pioneered it. Looking back, we can see how God moved through those churches and brought many souls to Himself through a passion for the unchurched. We gave our lives in service to that mission to reach the lost through relevant music, drama, and attempts to relate to those outside. Unfortunately, many of those attractional churches now seem like parodies of themselves. We visited our old church last week, which holds tightly to their attractional model. We watched a thoroughly embarrassing band, dressed in loud 80’s clothing and cartoon hairstyles, singing “Love Shack,” by The B-52s, before a message about sex. Well-meaning friends loved it and re-posted the video all over social media, with comments like “Never thought you’d see this at church.” I believe that the attractional model has completely run it’s course and it’s time to move on to what God has for the mission of the church. Let’s not get distracted by these shiny (old) objects but focus on our core mission: 1) Love one another 2) Make disciples 3) Worship God in Spirit and in Truth 4) Feed His sheep. Our son and his wife are part of the mass of disillusioned millenials who have left the evangelical church, though they still follow Christ. I can’t say that I blame them.

  15. Matt K says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you here Jared. Good stuff.

  16. “it’s the traditionalist churches that are attracting young people.” I find this interesting to consider, but also quite true. It seems that the younger crowd (myself included) realizes that this ‘pop church’ has no real grounding in the historical context of Christianity. The attractional church is a fad, and sooner or later, fads fade away.

  17. It is a mistake to lump people together using some arbitrary criteria and judge one group or another, as failures. God’s people are always mixed in attitudes. The evangelists are those from any age who have a deep love for human beings and seek to tell the gospel in any way that people will listen.
    Creating a “generation gap” among God’s people is not helpful.

  18. Glenn K says:

    Interesting. A friend of mine who is in the same church organization as I am, planted a church in Europe a number of years ago. A few years ago he attended a pastor’s conference there where the speakers were pastors from our organization’s American churches. These American pastors reported , sad to say, that simply preaching the word, encouraging prayer and fellowship, wasn’t enough to keep people! There had to be theatre, song and dance, and as one called it ” skinny jeans and smoke machines” in order for people to come regularly! It was one of the most grieving things I’ve heard in a long time. But this post is encouraging news to hear!! Maybe a hunger for the Lord and His word is beginning to rise again!! (I don’t say these things to be critical of anyone’s ministry! Its just grieving when the Lord, the word and prayer simply aren’t enough!)

  19. Kristofer Sandlund says:

    I would love to hear more, specifically your thoughts on “generation z”, who seem to really care about serving and getting involved. I’ve always believed the church was meant to “go” and to become “fishers of men”, not to try to get fish to jump in the boat. Solid Bible teaching is a must, but what are other key ministry goals when it comes to gen Z?

  20. Tim says:

    Eh. That message could have been delivered better. But that’s actually the problem I’ve encountered when talking to people who are pushing the “missional movement.” The first step always seems to be to criticize those who have been working for the Kingdom for decades. I agree that the Church needs to change… *constantly*. The Church should be evolving as society evolves – without compromising the unchanging Word. I’ve been through several church “movements”, none of which I believed were 100% on the right track. However, people still came to Christ. At some point the next generation needs to learn that God is ultimately in control. Making light of other’s work and quoting verses from the most depressing book in the Bible does… what exactly? To quote another 80’s hit, “Every generation blames the one before.”

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Tim, *I’ve* been working for the kingdom for decades. I was trained for ministry in teh attractional church movement (back then we called it the “seeker church”), went to Willow leadership conference, helped lead innovative church conferences, wrote to defend the model, etc. The idea that I’m some young newcomer shaking my fist at the older generation from ignorance is simply wrong. If you read the post closely, you’d see I’m criticizing my own generation, as well. We pendulum-swung too far away from the Boomers’ seeker model and created something even less enduring and helpful — the emerging church.

      Quoting verses from “the most depressing book in the Bible” ought to give people pause who take the whole Bible seriously.

  21. Meg I. says:

    This summer I had the privilege, before attending TGCW 2016, of attending a church in Indy that teaches the Word solidly and does so many other things Biblically too. This church saw a boom in growth about 15 years ago as people all over the Indy suburbs were leaving (in droves), “seeker friendly churches” to attend churches teaching truth on all levels. So thankful this church was there to take in those whose eyes had been opened.

  22. Rick McGinniss says:

    Having been saved and then discipled in a “traditional church” as a teenager and a young adult, then becoming the founding pastor at age 35 of one of those danged “seeker churches” (which is now coming up on its 22nd year of existence) and then, in recent years, seeing the rise of “more spiritual churches that reject the silliness of the previous generation” … it occurs to me that the same things I said in my early 30s about how “the traditional church” was missing the mark are now being said about me and my generation of leaders.

    That’s OK by me because we did and do miss the mark but I would issue a warning to those young bucks coming behind me – be careful how you speak about us oldtimers who back in the day followed Jesus into what was, at that point, new territory (seeker church) not because …

    a. we wanted a big church
    b. we wanted to have the biggest, baddest, christian show in town.
    c. we wanted to make a name for ourselves

    … but simply because we had friends and family who did not know Jesus and the church of our fathers was not connecting with them AND we were willing to take a risk for their sake and the sake of the Gospel.

    I say be careful because what you say about us will eventually be said about you when you get old (I’m 59). Mark my word: the people who come after you will look at your work and see you as outdated, playing to the culture, etc, etc. And yet, you will know in your heart that your motives were honest and Spirit-led. When that happens, I hope you have good friends who will help you keep from being overcoming by bitterness when that happens. Honestly, at times, you’ll just want to smack some smartaleck kid. But, then, you will remember that you once were that smartaleck kid. So don’t do it. :)

    In truth, the real issue with a lot of these “seeker churches” (like mine) is that – as it has always been – the church typically attracts people +/-15 years of the senior pastor’s age. That’s why seeker churches (like mine) are growing older.

  23. Antonio Martin says:

    They’re two things I believe we should keep in mind about spreading the gospel and building churches. 1). It doesn’t matter if we are cool, hip, revelent or traditional because whatever we do, it we will be stupid in the world eyes. ” For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” ” The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1st Cor 1:18; 2:14). With that being said, any attempt to please or attract “the world” in order to bring them to Christ or church is futile PERIOD! 2). Our style of clothes, deployment, style of preaching, etc… is not why people come to Christ or even stay in church. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself ” ” I planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (John 12:32; 1 Cor 3:6,7). Therefore, are we the ones who bring and retain people?, I don’t believe so. I think we tend to blame or even beat ourselves up over something that ONLY God is in control of. One last thing, we need to pray and seek God’s face on these issues and consult God’s Word on church growth or why people are leaving. One major reason I observed why many are leaving the church is found in this passage: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by DEVOTING  themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1st Tim 4:1). Trust me it’s not the churches fault! I believe we need to pay attention to the places where God is moving in a big way. I live in NY and we have some of the largest farms in the US, however we are limited to four seasons and two of those seasons are cold and very cold for which nothing can grow. If farmers can live by season’s than so can the church. Remember ” there’s a time to…” just fill in the blanks. At some point we became like corporate America ” big growth = huge profits and no growth = no success”. Do we look at families that way? Family (A) has no children and Family (B) has one child while Family (C) has 20 children. I would ask the question which family is most successful? Based on our thinking we would naturally choose Family (C), because the number of children. The same God who opens and closes the womb is the same God who opens and closes the Church? I believe that God’s way of success is far different from ours.

  24. Tim Wilcoxson says:

    Excellent post. I cringed through most of it as I reflected on the lack of self-awareness in the attractional church. Though, within “gospel-centeredness” context, there still seems to be a dearth of historical rootedness, reverence, and sense of aesthetic, which has some evangelicals bailing for “greener” high-church pastures. There is more going on there than just these things, and the grass surely is not greener, but there may be some legitimate aspect to these departures. I would want to say to them that they should stay and reform. These are not gospel-issues. And, rather than trying to do what the emergent church attempted, randomly quoting Desert Fathers and chattering about Mother Theresa in order to try to get rooted (in reaction to the ahistorical seeker-sensitves) we could, you know, actually care about history. That is, renew our memory of the historically timeless church traditions. This is vastly different than the false veneer of historicity displayed by so many of the disaffected. Rather, we need a thorough, biblically faithful embrace of solid (like an oak) traditions and practice. A top down renewal of interest in doing serious historical work by Evangelicals would help, especially on neglected areas of Church History (Early and Medieval) and working from within the Church to shepard in this direction could do wonders. A high view of biblical authority and some restraint are important here. There does seem to be pockets of folks talking about these things in conservative evangelical circles, but they aren’t the ones getting invited to all the conferences.

    This article struck me hard, particularly on faddishness in the church. It does not adorn the gospel well in our communities. What we do in our gatherings are, in fact, traditions, but not necessarily good or lasting ones. And that is the problem. We see the novel, cliche, and theologically tepid on display, ever changing in appearance, but always remaining banal like in the article’s examples. They don’t adorn the gospel or communicate the gospel beautifully. A song can be a “good” song, sort of, but be bad within 10 years. Not because it’s inherently a bad song. It just isn’t glorious. Then you have Mozart, to illustrate the counter example. He has been loved for centuries. We have every reason to believe his music will be well loved 200 years from now. I think the timeless nature of the Gospel deserves Mozart like quality in expressing the Gospel in our traditions. Of course, there is subjectivity here. But perhaps we ought to consider whether the Puritans swung the pendulum too far with their barren buildings and stripped services. The health they brought into the Church was from their robust preaching and piety, not their barren walls. The gospel was being lost in their day because of ungodly, gospel-less leaders, not because of the stained glass.

    1. Tony Seel says:

      Tim, I cringe at the lack of self awareness in traditional churches. As the members age, too few are asking why aren’t we attracting more families and younger persons. I don’t recall Jesus talking about historical rootedness at all – I do recall Him speaking about and training disciples to make disciples. In fact, he had a lot of negative things to say to those in Israel who opposed His interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures because His interpretations clashed with their sense of historical rootedness. Reverence is a culturally-conditioned concept. Reverence for Latinos, for example, is something much different, than reverence for Anglos. Reverence for Anglicans (my tribe) can be much different than reverence for Southern Baptists or Pentecostals. Aesthetic is also culturally-conditioned, and I’m surprised that someone who would criticize the lack of self awareness in others would evidence a lack of understanding on this. What is glorious can also be culturally bound. I am glad that you mention subjectivity toward the end of your comment. Since the Bible does not give us a particular aesthetic, I would hope that we can be open minded on this. While I agree that a fair number of evangelicals whom I have known do not seem to know much about the period between the Book of Acts and the Reformation, my greater concern is that the church spend more time working toward figuring out how to better evangelize and disciple people in the 21st century. While I love Church HIstory, I love those who are evangelizing and discipling more than I do historical rootedness, or my idea of what reverence is.

  25. Thanks Jared for a great post! I have written elsewhere on developing better metrics than “butts in seats” so I am intrigued by your reference to ‘research showing that they’re not making disciples.’ I understand you’re not equating large church with Attractional church, but I do tend to equate “Attractional” church with “church growth” model (following Alan Hirsch). I have been looking for data on large vs. smaller churches in terms of disciple making but haven’t found much yet. Could you point me to some resources that support your statement that Attractional churches aren’t making disciples? I am hopeful that it will be a better starting point than what I have found thus far. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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