Can a Church be Both Attractional and Missional?

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On the VergeI recently connected with Dave Ferguson, Lead Pastor and Spiritual Entrepreneur with Community Christian Church and the NewThing Network, to talk with him about his new book. Dave co-authored On the Verge with Alan Hirsch. Here’s my interview with Dave:

TONY: What prompted you to write On the Verge?

DAVE: On The Verge was written in response to an urgency that both Alan and I felt that the church in North America is at a tipping point of moving in one of two very different directions: either towards extinction in this generation or a missional movement. While these are two distinctly different directions there are indicators of both possibilities. The shrinking percentage (18%) of the population that regularly attends church that would lead us to think that the North American church will go the way of Australia (10%) and Europe (2%-5%).

On the other hand there are also signs of movement. We are now starting more new churches than we are closing in United States. In addition, Alan and I were working with a dozen mega multi-site churches who are among the most influential and “successful” churches in the U.S (in the book we refer to them as Future Travelers) that were all making shifts from being primarily attractional to also being missional and sending churches. These indicators gave us great hope that that North American church is on the verge of an apostolic movement.

TONY: Though I highly respect both you and Alan, I wouldn’t expect the two of you to write a book together. How did that partnership come together?

DAVE: I read Alan’s Forgotten Ways when it first came out and thought it was one of the best books on the church that I had read in several years. So, when we invited him to speak at the Exponential Conference I took advantage of it and met him for breakfast. Despite the fact that Alan was a huge advocate of the missional-incarnational approach to church and a critic of the attractional mega church, I think he could see that what we were doing through Community and NewThing was not building a kingdom of our own, but catalyzing a movement. We hit it off immediately. Who I represent (mega, multi-site, church planting) and whom Alan’s represents (missional-incarnational) create the “both/and” thinking that we advocate in the On The Verge. We believe the best church of the future will be extraordinarily attractive because it is sent into the world to serve the world and love the world back to God. It really is our love for the church and the mission of Jesus that has brought us together.

TONY: Your church is highly attractional. Is it possible for an attractional church to also be missional?

DAVE:  Absolutely, a church can be both attractional and missional! When we started Community Christian Church it was started with the intention of being both attractional and missional. We didn’t have this kind of language when we started Community, but we did have a three-phased vision for the future of our church from the very beginning:

  1. Impact Church – to be a church that was making an impact in our community
  2. Reproducing Church – to be a church that reproduces other churches or sites
  3. Movement of Reproducing Churches – If God would so bless it; we hoped to catalyze a movement of reproducing churches.

Since starting Community we have attracted more people to our mission every year and at the same time sent out more and more people each year to start churches and sites. It is by the grace of God every week we are reaching close to 50,000 people in 100+ churches and sites through Community and NewThing.

TONY: Aside from Community Christian Church, can you give us one or two examples of churches that are modeling the theories you and Alan offer in the book?

DAVE: In On The Verge we profile twelve churches that we have been working with for the last two years through a process called “Future Travelers.” All of these “Future Travelers” churches are in various stages of using their mega multi-site church as a platform for a missional movement and thus model the theories from the book. A couple of churches your readers might like to check out are The Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas that has transitioned 33% of their small groups to missional communities. They were early adopters in this whole process and their learnings have benefitted all of us. Another church is Soma Communities based in Tacoma, Washington. Soma is the one church of the twelve that was started on a purely missional paradigm and is ahead of the curve.

TONY: Why do you think it’s important for church leaders to wrestle with this topic?

DAVE: Quite simply, the future of the church in North America and the Western world is at stake. I know that is a big statement, but I don’t think it is an overstatement. If we don’t make this shift toward the apostolic future and being more missional we will not see an advance in the cause of Christ and God will have to call on another generation of leaders and churches to advance His purposes.

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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