Every church wants to grow and thrive. But attractional churches focus on making Christianity as attractive as possible, sometimes to the detriment of the gospel they are supposed to proclaim.
Jared Wilson—managing editor of Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church, and director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri—offers an insightful critique of the attractional church model in his new book, The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace. He writes as an attractional church insider and outsider, having spent years in both spheres.
Leading a church culture to shift from numerical success to the metrics of grace can be costly, but leaders who have conviction, courage, and commitment can lead while avoiding some of the landmines that often destroy churches. Wilson includes diagnostic questions that will help leaders measure—and lead team transparency in measuring as a group—the relative spiritual health of their church, as well as a practical prescriptive plan for implementing this metric-measuring strategy without becoming legalistic.
From Attractional to Gospel-Driven
Wilson helps the reader envision what it looks like to transition from one to the other with a fictional account of LifePoint Church. This church serves as an archetype for all churches whose stated or unstated ministry philosophy is “a way of doing church ministry whose primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing.” He hastens to add that this isn’t a style or size of church; it’s a paradigm and motivation revolving around consumerism and pragmatism.
The goal of the book is “to convince you that your church and its slate of programs and ministries—no matter how successful they have been in attracting people—should be centered on the good news of the finished work of Jesus Christ.” Here Wilson leans on, and often quotes, Jonathan Edwards’s Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. If you like Edwards, you’ll like Wilson (and vice-versa).
Who is the audience for this book? I suspect it’ll be most helpful for attractional-weary church attenders who receive the book from friends and family of the gospel-driven variety. For them this book will be both bomb and balm. It also will strengthen the resolve of church leaders who want to either begin the process of change or be reassured that all the transitional drama is worth it.
Triaging the Church
As the subtitle—Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace—indicates, Wilson wants local churches to measure the right things in the right way. This resonates with my church experience, as our leadership has a task force searching for answers to these questions. Are we healthy? How do we know? What is our measure? I suspect many of us pastors struggle to discern this health, since the key categories of spiritual growth are more subjective than objective. Wilson offers diagnostic questions I found helpful even as I wished there were more of them.
I personally resonate with Wilson’s concerns, yet is there anything to gain from the attractional church model? Like most pastors, I “steal” good ideas from anywhere I can. To this Wilson says, “Many who have spent decades inside the system can’t distinguish between attractive and attractional, practical and pragmatic.” While I don’t pastor an attractional church, we do labor to make it and the gospel attractive. An appendix or future article from Jared written for pastors on learning from what the attractional church does well—without drinking the Kool-Aid—would be great. My ministerial tribe would say thank you!
Triaging the Pastor
While Wilson’s critique echoes his earlier book Prodigal Church, his maturing role as pastoral mentor and coach shines through the final portion of this one. Here he gets practical and, through the LifePoint Church story, lays out a plan for a church to move toward being more gospel-driven. This section is written for church leaders wanting to enact change. The sections on teaching and preaching are helpful for preachers and listeners alike, as both need to know a biblical, expositional sermon when they preach or hear one.
Wilson ends with a practical question-and-answer appendix. He answers questions about sermon length, dealing with angry members, and even a gospel-driven church budget. All this leaves the reader finishing the book with a firm grip on both the why and also the how of gospel-driven church ministry.
One-Stop Critique and Guide
The Gospel-Driven Church is a one-stop critique of the attractional church and a guide out of the theological ideologies underpinning it. If you’re looking for an MRI of your congregation’s health, you may find more help elsewhere. But if you’re exhausted by the attractional church or sense something is missing within it, this book will hit all the key points and give you wise counsel for implementing change.
Jared Wilson’s heart for more and better churches and more and better disciples echoes both Edwards and also our Savior. He has produced another book on the church that should be applauded, read, and heeded.