The decline of attractional church

You remember peak oil, right?

For those who don’t it is “the hypothetical point in time when the global production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline” (via: Wikipedia).

According to Tim Challies we may have reached the peak of the attractional church model with Ed Young’s sermon series “Wrastlin'”:

In case you’re not familiar with the term “attractional,” here’s Tim Challies offering a definition:

“The attractional church is, according to Jared Wilson, a “ministry paradigm that has embraced consumerism, pragmatism, and moralism as its operational values.” It assumes that the greatest and highest purpose of the church service is to evangelize unbelievers rather than to encourage and disciple believers. It assumes we are responsible to do whatever it takes to get people through the doors of the church. It assumes that we shouldn’t do or say anything within a service that may make unbelievers uncomfortable. It assumes that growing numbers are a necessary indication of God’s favor.”

The attractional model has been the dominant paradigm in American church for several decades now. And it was successful in filling seats. It turns out to be less successful at making disciples.

The problem?

Boice’s law: “what you win them with is what you win them to.” 

In my experience precious few churches successfully make the beauty of the gospel the thing that “wins” people.

I love these eight characteristics of a gospel-centered church offered by Challies:

  1. Trust not just in authority of Scripture but sufficiency of Scripture
  2. Sermons that emphasize “It is finished!” over “Get to work!”. Jesus is the star, not a bit player
  3. Meaningful membership encompassing whole-life discipleship, pastoral care, and church discipline
  4. Emphasis on members as missionaries & emphasizing “go and tell” over “come and see”
  5. A total trust in the gospel to be the power of transformation that no amount of inspiration can be
  6. Regular commitment to the Lord’s Supper
  7. Reliance on robustness of the gospel to apply to the believer, justification & sanctification
  8. Church as community of saints, not merely a worship service or resource center for programs

As Biblical Christianity runs afoul of our culture’s values we’ll necessarily see the decline of attractional church. Good riddance.

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