I grew up in a world of either/or choices. You could either like the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Oilers, the Longhorns or the Aggies, Dr. Pepper or Coke, but you could not like both. You could like Mexican food, or you could move from Texas to somewhere far far away.
In the church world it wasn’t much different. It seemed you had to make a choice: You could be traditional or you could be contemporary. You could use screens or use hymnals. You could preach sermon series or you could preach books of the bible verse by verse. You could have pews or chairs, jeans or slacks, ties or tee shirts.
We’ve even gone so far as to invent a few new words: You can be an attractional church or you can be a missional church. You could be the gathered church or the scattered church. You could be seeker-sensitive or not. But you couldn’t be both.
I think we need a new model. I think we need to be passionate about making an impact, not just making our model work. And frankly, I don’t think there is a pastor in the world who doesn’t want to make an impact.
But the question remains: Is your church using every tool it has to move forward the mission?
As a worship pastor - as someone responsible for our Sunday gatherings - I humbly ask: Is your Sunday gathering embarrassing your mission or empowering your mission? Because what I’ve learned over the last 7 years is simple: In a collegiate church plant, attractional is missional.
An attractional gathering can provide the muscle for your missional movement. A mighty weapon in the hand of a collegiate church planter is a compelling gathering, or to say it another way: Good luck being missional if you don’t have a place to gather that is attractional.
Now before you get mad, let me explain why I’m confident saying that. College students love to gather. They are looking for places to get together to meet people; they flock to concerts and movies and house parties. Can you imagine a college experience without gatherings? No. Because it wouldn’t be one.
There’s a principle in the church growth world called the 80% rule. It says that when a church auditorium nears 80% capacity, you’re packed, additional growth will be limited, and additional service times (or a larger auditorium) should be developed.
Church growth experts say no one else will come after 80%. College students say, “I don’t want to come until you reach 80% capacity.”
They love to gather.
College students love going to a sold out performance. They love restaurants that always have a wait time. When the quality of experience is high enough, people do not mind sharing it with many other people. Crowd density creates energy. Why wouldn’t you want an attractional gathering?
Gathering is integral to the life of a student. Music is integral to the life of a student. Communication is integral to the life of a student. Art is integral. Calling is integral. Purpose is integral. And all of these areas are represented in the local church gathering.
So, our best shot at reaching these 21 million college students is a gathering – a high quality, well-designed gathering with good music (yes, good music - one of the Resonate bands won a local battle of the bands contest and got to open for Snoop Dogg – crazy right?). Our best shot is a gathering with good preaching and good coffee, filled with externally focused people living in compelling community – this is a highly effective tool to attract college students to your mission.
We should attract more and more people to our gatherings, and then invite them to be sent out as disciples who make disciples in community.
The message is simple: We need to be as attractional as humanly possible one day a week and as missional as humanly possible every other day of the week.
We have to be both. We have to leverage one inside the other.
As author Mike Breen says, “Scattering is the cake and gathering is the icing in the life of the church. We’ve become a fat church from eating a lot of icing. But don’t throw out the icing! Cake just never tastes quite as well without it.”
We need to understand that if the worship service is our primary place of mission, we’ve already lost the battle. But if we don’t use the worship service as a place of mission we will lose the battle soon enough.
Now I know, some of you aren’t excited about what I’m saying. I know a lot of you go to bed on Saturday night dreading Sunday, not dreaming about Sunday.
But I believe with everything in me that the Lord wants to start a movement of collegiate churches that reach this generation by being both attractional and missional.
The local church is what God is using to reach the world for Christ. May those local churches be filled with leaders who take seriously the Sunday gathering. And when I say attractional, I don’t mean shallow and shiny. I mean authentic and deep. I mean gatherings filled with people who are emotional in worship, tremble at the teaching of the word, and attract the masses, and who then walk out of those doors on Sunday to take on the world.
Lost people will say, “Surely God was in their midst.“