February 24, 2011 / David Fitch

I’ve Changed my Stance on “Attractional”: How Mike Breen Converted Me

This post was originally supposed to be a review of Mike Breen and Alex Absalom’s field guide for leading missional communities entitled Launching Missional Communities. Instead, as a result of reading this book, I have an announcement to make: I’ve changed my stance on attractional. I’VE BEEN CONVERTED!! For years I’ve engaged in what I believe is a constructive critical stance towards attractional approaches to church for the post-Christendom Mission of God in the West. Yet, I keep getting asked, isn’t there something of value here in all these big-mega-huge-ginormous attractional churches? Isn’t God at work here to? To which I usually nod, bite my tongue, and say something like: somebody needs to take on the task of sustaining already existing habituated to traditional church Christians in the hectic capitalistic societies of affluence that the West has bred. But secretly, deep within the recesses of my soul, I ask isn’t there more here than this?
This is why I was interested when a thoroughly missional practitioner like Mike Breen defends “attractional” in Launching Missional Communities.  In this field guide, there’s a small chapter (ch 2.4) entitled Missional versus Attractional. Here Breen describes what the attractional does well versus the local missional community does well. Basically Breen says the attractional gathering is for celebration, inspiration, the creating of vision, and spurring on of momentum. Missional communities (groups of 20-50) on the other hand do community, local missional engagement, training and discipling well.  My pal JR Rozko gets all up in arms over this in his post over here and questions Breen’s historical analysis as well as the ability of the two orbits (missional and attractional) to live in sync with each other. For the most part I agree with Rozko. But then Mike Breen responds in a blog post here. He tries to distinguish the way he uses attractional versus say the way I and Alan Hirsch use it when we accuses “attractional” of some of the worst ills of institutionalized church (see my post here)  Although Mike makes some good points here, this is not what led to my conversion.

Where attractional started to make sense to me was in the chapter before 2.4 entitled “The Four Spaces.” Here Breen maps out the four social spaces: public (large attractional gathering), social (missional community 20-50), personal (small group) and intimate (1-2 people). He wonderfully describes the interplay of the four spaces and shows how they play off each other. What is clear from these pages is that the attractional gathering is limited by Breen to at most once every 4 weeks or once every six weeks. IT IS NOT THE CENTRAL ORGANIZING EVENT OF THE CHURCH. Indeed, the organic missional community in the local context is the local organizing force. The attractional event fulfills a unique role of celebration, inspiration, the creating of vision and spurring on that comes from the momentum. It plays its role and it is clearly subordinated to the missional community in the life of the church. Today, therefore, as a result of reading Breen’s field guide, I can finally say, with a clear conscience, I am converted to the value of the attractional gathering.

Here’s the kind of attractional gathering I see as viable for the upbuilding of mission. It is the attractional gathering does not become an end in itself. Its worst traits – it sucks up resources, it become addicting and thereby passivizing to Christians, it becomes a commodity to be sold over and over again, it malforms Christians into passive internal gaze – are mitigated by the fact it hardly ever happens! But when it does, it is hugely encouraging, motivating. For me then, for all our Missional communities sprouting about Chicagoland, I suggest we do this once a quarter. Tell me where I am wrong? have I gone batty?

Having now used up all my space in this blog post on my own conversion to attractional , I want to just put in a additional plug for Breen and Absalem’s book. It is an intense practical field guide. It delves deep into the ways of discipleship, leadership and mission. It spells out the key aspects of the four social spaces needed to be a people of mission in the world. It puts forth a program for discipleship that we at Life on the Vine are interacting with adopting many of its proven ideas. It deals with development and multiplication of leadership. It tells us how to do this all within the context of mission. It is one of the most intensely practical field guides you can find. But it is a field guide. It is nuts and bolts, finances, form of meetings, how you move from this form of organization to another one. Don’t expect much here in terms of theology – something I think the missional church movement is sorely in need of. But that’s not Breen’s job here.

All in all, I recommend this book. Its seminal ideas are having a profound effect on Life on the Vine and churches all over the country. And that’s the best recommendation I can give. And BTW you can buy this field guide here.

In closing, what say u? Is there a place for the large attractional gathering within the missional matrix? Can it work in the ways Breen puts forth?