Dan Kimball's Missional Misgivings
Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where's the fruit?

I hope I am wrong. For the past few years, I have been observing, listening, and asking questions about the missional movement. I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory. Again, I hope I am wrong.

We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God's mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the "attractional" model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people "come to us" isn't going to cut it anymore. But here's my dilemma - I see no evidence to verify this claim.

Not long ago I was on a panel with other church leaders in a large city. One missional advocate in the group stated that younger people in the city will not be drawn to larger, attractional churches dominated by preaching and music. What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city - in droves. Its worship services drew thousands with pop/rock music and solid preaching. The church estimates half the young people were not Christians before attending.

Conversely, some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn't grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.

Another outspoken advocate of the house church model sees it as more missional and congruent with the early church. But his church has the same problem. After fifteen years it hasn't multiplied. It's a wonderful community that serves the homeless, but there's no evidence of non-Christians beginning to follow Jesus. In the same city several megachurches are seeing conversions and disciples matured.

I realize missional evangelism takes a long time, and these churches are often working in difficult soil. We can't expect growth overnight.

But given their unproven track records, these missional churches should be slow to criticize the attractional churches that are making a measurable impact. No, I am not a numbers person. I am not enamored by how many come forward at an altar call. In fact, I am a bit skeptical. But I am passionate about Jesus-centered disciples being made. And surprisingly, I find in many large, attractional churches, they are.

December 02, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 58 comments


September 27, 2010  5:12pm

Regardless of the size of any congregration or amount of programs that they may or may not offer it is the spirit of God alone that draws people to any church congregation. God is drawing his creation to himself. The congregation, the programs are just resources/tools/vessels to accomplish his ultimate desire- the saving of a soul.

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Robert Easter

December 26, 2009  9:02am

Hoping that the fine folks who have already weighed in on this still get responses forwarded, I have to say that the problem here may be one of a sterilised Gospel. for over 500 years the Gospel was laden down with non-essential (and even counterproductive) traditions, and for the past 500 years we have seen a trend of reducing the Gospel down to the barest "essentials" as if the healthiest and most viable seed is the one that consists only of the most essential part of the germ, with all the nutrients and protective husk removed. If we treated wheat like that, all the "seed" would do is rot. We're seeing a lot of rot in the Church today as well- especially where our Western Rationalism has done the most in shaving the seed. Today we criticise the Church of the Early Fathers as lacking the tools and insights we enjoy today, but then they had spread the Truth from India to Ireland in very short order, and arguably had seen half the population of Jerusalem radically converted while most of today's "churches" can't seem to show a postive growth over the last ten years, even counting our own children.

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March 31, 2009  5:29pm

Danny Guglielmucci spoke a fantastic message at our church about Sunday church and Monday church. Saying that it was OK to have a nice salt shaker (attractional church) on Sunday. But that the salt needed to be shaken out on Monday (missional). Spoke about the difference between attractional on Sunday and missional on Monday and how after many years of pastoring had only just started doing both well not just one or the other.

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March 21, 2009  5:56pm

i interact with a number of churches. they vary in size from small to mega and in theory from seeker to missional. in my experience so far mouths are not making for very good hands and feet.

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John Franke

March 21, 2009  8:32am

The thing that strikes me about Dan's comments is that they seem to assume, like so many in the missional church conversation right now, that "missional" refers to a "style" of doing church over against other styles. In my opinion this is a serious category mistake. The missional conversation is about theology and starts with a rethinking of traditional Western conceptions of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. These traditional theological conceptions have been shaped by Christendom and are deeply imbedded in the intuitions of the North American church. Unless this challenge is addressed I fear that the missional church conversation will continue to be viewed as simply the latest fad among many in the desperate search for a pragmatic ecclesiology that will sustain the life of the church in North America.

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Gaylan Mathiesen

January 07, 2009  3:54pm

It seems to me that there is a lack of consensus and clarity about what is "missional." Many use the word, but I find different meanings attached to it. From what I've read and heard, I don't think that being missional is throwing out everything traditional simply because it is "attractional." According to missional theology, "programs" themselves are not wrong—in fact, missional writers that I read (Roxburgh, Van Gelder et. al.) say that organization, structure, programs and so on are actually necessary in order for a missional church to be effective. I think where the rub comes is when a church defines itself by those things, and puts all its identity eggs in the "programs" basket—primarily for the purpose of "providing religious goods and services" to its consumer members, and secondarily in hopes of perhaps "attracting" those outside the church. I would say that it is when these things don't come out of the "mission" nature of the church that it's a problem. You write, "Yes, people are attracted by the music, preaching, or children's programs, but there may be more to these large churches than simply the programming. There are also people being the body of Christ in their communities. When these disciples build relationships with non-Christians, the evidence of the Spirit in their lives is attractive. The existence of programs and buildings does not mean mature disciples are not a significant reason why these churches grow." Here's the key: there's more to these churches than simply the programming. That is precisely the missional difference. You recognize the fact that, "There are so many who don't understand the joy of Kingdom living here on earth and the future joy of eternal life." I wonder, then, if the points you raise to defend programmatic ministry in these mega-churches arise from their missional nature? I would say that it is the apparent missional understanding of ministry that these churches have that make them successful in reaching the lost. It's not just small churches that can be missional—I am convinced that any church can be missional, because being missional if first of all defining the essence of your church around the missional character and nature of God. You begin with "God is on a mission" and go from there. I would guess from what you say that the churches you use as examples of the success of an attractional approach to understand this.

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Richard Passmore

December 18, 2008  4:17am

I was taken with your comment "There are also people being the body of Christ in their communities." Much of the small missional church stuff I am involved with is about the changing definition of church. Your comment seems to suggest that the larger attractional models are not being the body of christ but that it is representative in the smaller local expressions or by people in the midst. Does this mean the fruit of the attractional contacts is not fruit? or for the small missional communities that have community contacts are not fruit? perhaps they are different manifesations of the same fruit. The definition of church is important here if you define church as the people being the "body of christ" (bounded, confessional, discipling set)then perhaps there is as little fruit in the attractional models as you suggest there may be in the missional? As a fan of the both/and models this as critism of neither but a question about how do we help both build kingdom?

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December 14, 2008  11:34pm

I will continue to pray that the Church finds a way to bring people in and keep them on fire for the Lord. There is a church for everybody. Some need the mega-church offering to stay excited and connected... some, like me, attend a small home/missional church and take comfort in the great Christian friends and fellowship I partake in. Do I want my Church to grow? Yes. You can't support a church without numbers. But in the end... don't we rely on God to provide? If we do it correctly, for the glory of the Kingdom, won't God decide what works and what doesn't? He doesn't care about the model, because the model is mostly about what makes you feel good, what keeps you happy... instead of, what makes God happy.

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Neil Cole

December 13, 2008  3:20pm

Hello Freinds, I have written a few responses to Dan's editorial on my blog... http://cole-slaw.blogspot.com There are deeper implications than simply comparing the initial numbers. Pressing on, Neil Cole

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Chris Rosebrough

December 11, 2008  10:51pm

Dan, I thought this post wonderfully expressed you passion for the lost and your desire to see the church multiply and have more people enter the Kingdom of Christ. That being said, I want to offer a different perspective. I don't think this is an either/ or situation. As someone who has closely watched the 'attractional' mega-church model it is very clear from the results of Willow Creek's Reveal studies that some of the most popular and influential 'attractional' churches are not doing and effective job of producing Christ-Centered disciples of Christ. They do a great job of attracting a high quantity of people but are not doing the best job at producing quality disciples. Missional churches from what I have seen are much better at the quality aspect of discipleship but are less adept at attracting higher numbers. I think part of their struggle in attracting more people is that that are competing with Big Box mega-churches. As someone that attends a smaller church (roughly 300 members) that has grown by almost 25% in the last 4 years (even without a cool building and lots of programs) , I think that there are ways for smaller 'missional' type churches to grow but it takes a conscious effort on the part of leaders and teachers in the church to cultivate an understanding that evangelism is a critical duty for mature disciples to engage in. I think an uncompromised commitment to cultivating and growing quality Christ-Centered disciples who have an in-depth and gospel-centered understanding of the scriptures produces a duty and urgency in people to share their faith as well as equips them to effectively engage in evangelism. Remember that the Christian Church grew like a weed for millennia without programs, relevant music and functional buildings. The reason for this is that man-made programs DO NOT grow the church. God is the one that grows His Church through the proclamation of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. Focus on quality preaching and quality teaching that centers on the Gospel and God will produce disciples who will in turn bear fruit.

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