Once upon a time, I tweeted: “At our church we want our music to be as good as it can be without having people come to our church because of it.” Some of the responses were rather telling. Some folks, as folks’re prone to do, apparently read what I didn’t write and asked me why I want to promote bad music and why I’m against people finding music attractive. For the record, I’m not a fan of bad music (in lyric or tune or style), and I’m not against people being attracted to music (and the arts in general).
Taking a step back, though, I find the leap to hear what I didn’t say indicative of the fundamental problem. It happens whenever I decry pragmatism and I’m asked why I advocate impracticality. But pragmatism and practicality aren’t the same thing. And neither is the attractional paradigm of “doing church” identical to wanting an attractive church. It is only thought so in environments where the medium has become the message (apologies to Marshall McLuhan). Those who’ve grown up in or cut their ministry teeth on the attractional movement often cannot see the ecclesiological dis-ease around them.
At its inception, the attractional church (or “seeker church,” as it used to be called) was about getting as many people as possible inside the doors to then hear the good news of Jesus Christ. In my youth ministry days, we used all manner of traditionally adolescent enticements—pizza, silly games, loud music—but the “big church” services in the attractional paradigm uses grown-up versions of these enticements, ostensibly to contextualize the message. If we were dubious people—wink, wink—we might call this approach to ministry “the ol’ bait and switch”: get ’em inside with cool stuff, then share the gospel with the captive audience.
But something distressing happened. As if to unwittingly prove the dictum that what you win people with is what you win them to, increasingly, the gospel of Christ’s finished work became relegated to the end of a service, almost an addendum to to the real focal points of the goings-on, and then it frequently became pushed to the end of an entire message series, eventually became saved just for special occasions, and ultimately has been replaced altogether by the shiny legalism of moralistic therapeutic deism.
Eventually the attractional church became all bait, no switch. The approach of today’s attractional church is like the Trojan Rabbit of Monty Python‘s Arthurian nincompoops—smuggled inside the castle walls with nobody inside.
As a result so many inside the system, shepherded under this system and joined to it, can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic. When we lose the centrality of the gospel, we lose the ability to think straight.