Monday, May 16, 2016

Moving Beyond the Attractional Approach to Reaching and Engaging North America’s Unchurched Population

By Robin G. Jordan

A denomination that has a serious commitment to the spread of the gospel and the furtherance of the Great Commission will not tie itself to the kind of unbiblical teaching and practices, type of church, style of worship , and approach to reaching and engaging the unchurched as has the Anglican Church in North America. The local ACNA church envisioned in the catechism and the rites and services of the proposed ACNA prayer book closely resembles the conventional parish church found in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA. It is organized around the pastoral and sacramental ministry of one or more priests assisted by one or more deacons and lay assistants. It is a type of church that requires a high expenditure of money and human resources to establish and maintain. While it may be the type of church to which a segment of the Anglican Church in North America is accustomed, the segment which is largely comprised of former Episcopalians, it is not the type of church that will enable the ACNA to effectively spread the gospel and to further the Great Commission.

The number of such churches that the Anglican Church in North America can plant and sustain is limited by the availability of money and human resources. Other factors that place a cap on the ACNA’s multiplication of this type of church are its doctrine and worship style and size of the population segment to which they appeal. From what may be gathered from research data the size of this population is not large and may be shrinking.

In order to flourish this type of church requires its own building and parking lot. The real estate prices and unfriendly zoning laws in some areas may limit the ACNA’s multiplication of this type of church.

I am involved in guest ministry at a growing evangelical church in western Kentucky. Its average Sunday attendance exceeds 500 people and it has launched a second campus in a nearby community. Its two Sunday morning services have just about reached 80% capacity. It also has a high rate of baptisms and a burgeoning children’s ministry. To experience continued growth, it must multiply services as well as campuses.

Just as the traditional worship of the type of church in which the Anglican Church in North America is investing its future has limited appeal (less than 1% of the population in my particular region of Kentucky) so does the contemporary worship of this evangelical church. While it appeals to a far larger segment of the region’s population, it does not appeal to everybody—not enough for them to change their Sunday routine and to attend church. This is one of the limits of the attractional approach to reaching the unchurched. What a church using this approach offers must be attractive to those it is seeking to reach. Eventually the attractional church will reach the limits of its capacity to attract people. This evangelical church has not yet reached that limit with some population segments but it appears to be reaching it with others.

How then does a church reach and engage people who are not attracted to what the church has to offer? One way is to become better acquainted with these people, not by trying to get them to come to church but by going to them, getting involved in whatever interests them.

If the church sponsors an activity in one of their areas of interest, the focus should be on the interest. The aim is to create a “safe” environment in which Christians and non-Christians, churched people and unchurched people, can do something together that they enjoy doing or is otherwise meaningful to them and in which they can get to know each other.

By “safe” I mean safe for non-Christians and unchurched people—“no bait and switch.” The activity is not sponsored for the ultimate purpose of giving a gospel presentation to those who attend, distributing tracts to them, engaging them in spiritual conversations, or inviting them to church. Many non-Christians and unchurched people will shy away from church-sponsored activities for this reason. It may be necessary to downplay the church’s sponsorship of the activity and conducting the activity at a location other than the building in which the church meets. .

Rather than trying to attract people to its Sunday gatherings, a church that adopts this approach focuses upon being the people of Christ in the community, doing life with its people as well as together. This approach may eventually lead to spiritual conversations. But they will occur naturally within the context of relationships and will not be forced or contrived.

One of the challenges that modern day Christians face is that they suffer from an image problem. Becoming more involved in the lives of non-Christians and unchurched people is an important step in overcoming this image problem and acquiring a more favorable image in the community.

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