Dan Kimball says at Out of Ur today that “Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where’s the fruit?”
My first thought was that we’d seen this before, a year ago when Mark Driscoll said pretty much the same thing, to which I responded about measuring converts, and based on that, David Fitch explains why he misses the point. So I thought we’d already addressed this — and I thought Dan Kimball should know better. And maybe he does… because he’s got a point.
Allow me to highlight a few points of departure from and agreement with Dan’s position.
(1) Dan writes, “I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory.” To some extent, this may be true if a large sample is expected — but we don’t yet have one. The nature of the beast is that it lives at grassroots levels and many expressions never grow large enough to attract a lot of attention. Typically, this may be by design, as some will plan to multiply and remain small. The number of well-known small church networks is not huge either, but such a model takes considerable time to develop. In defense of the theory of missional church, I have to say it has some pretty good heavyweight theologians, missiologists, pastors, thinkers, and cultural observers getting behind it. It makes sense, and on an intellectual level, the theory is sound, having been presented, critiqued, and dialogued upon at a scholarly as well as at a practical level. And there’s a good reason for the theory to get such an exceptional level of vetting: because the fruit of the praxis is going to take years — perhaps decades — to fully observe, understand, and evaluate. How long did Willow Creek run their programs before saying “oops, these aren’t doing what we thought?” With missional church, the additional vetting of the theory is precisely because we don’t want to give ourselves for years and years to something we don’t believe will have positive results in the long run. I’m sure Dan feels the same sentiment… but I think we may be looking at differing timeframes, that’s all.
(2) Next, he asserts that “the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the ‘attractional’ model of church as ineffective. …But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.” He follows up with anecdotal evidence concerning a missional church and a megachurch. Here Dan’s got a good point — some of us in the missional conversation do go a bit too far in dismissing the attractional church. I may believe that its days are numbered, but they are clearly not yet over, and as long as it’s working for some, more power to them. I do hope, in making this statement, that our measures of “success” are similar enough that we can be content with the same outworkings from our efforts. Whereas I’m looking at “health” in the sense of spiritual vitality and growth of the individuals involved, some (and I’m not saying Dan) look only or mainly at numbers. Sure, megachurches are growing — but not all are healthy, and not all are theologically sound. (Can I get an ‘Amen!’?)
Here comes a caveat though. Not all attractional churches are megachurches… and not all are growing. Inasmuch as it’s hard (or impossible) to look at a few missional churches and pronounce a verdict for the whole, we cannot look at a few megachurches and pronounce a verdict for attractional church as a whole. There are some neighbourhoods and people groups among whom it doesn’t work. And there are some where it does. Let’s understand these and use the right structures for the context, shall we?
Despite the article’s somewhat provocative title, I think Dan’s main point is that people in the missional conversation are writing off attractional church. And he’s right. In this, I suggest some quarters of the missional conversation really have gone too far… and it may not be a shock to find I’ve been in that camp. But I nevertheless continue to maintain that if it’s working for them by organic measures beyond the numbers (and I can say that because Dan states in his piece that he’s not a numbers guy), then let them continue in it. But it runs both ways — if those of us toiling away at missional endeavours are still convinced after –however long we’ve been at it– that our methods are the most promising or are bearing the kind of fruit we expect, then let’s not criticize the missional “movement” (I hate that word) for taking too long, shall we?
I mean, we’re on the same side — so it behooves us to actually pray for one another and our varied efforts.
It’s possible that Dan’s article will raise some hackles, and that’s to be expected. I got my dander up for a few minutes myself, but on second glance I think my response is a little more measured, and in the transaction, more accurate. But it does illustrate something else of significance to the missional crowd: inasmuch as we have discussed the theory amongst ourselves, it appears that some on the outside don’t actually understand some of the theory we’re discussing (we should have figured that out by the confusion over what the word means, right?), so it looks like there’s still some explanation to ge done.
As well, it has been noted correctly that there is some degree of difficulty in gathering missional stories and accounts, and I can say that something toward this end took a big positive step forward today. More will be revealed in the coming weeks, but again we must realize that the kind of grassroots organization that attends missional efforts doesn’t look the same as those which attend the boardroom of the megachurch, so it it has been slow to get missional endeavours up and running and ready to report on their efforts, it will also take time for reporting structures to come together. But it will happen.
In the end, I think Dan isn’t quite measuring the missional “movement” (his word, not mine) by its proper yardstick. But on the other hand, he’s highlighted a few working points for those of us committed to the theory, and in that, perhaps we see a challenge to be met?
You are making such an important note. In an time where we get instant results for everything, we need to resist the impulse to measure “success” too quickly and by the wrong means. I agree that Dan has made some important points that need to be addressed. I appreciate the distinction.
P.S. Bro, it has been forever since I have seen you!
Thanks for a very thoughtful post. While my first reaction to Kimball’s article was “you’re wrong” I do think his words should cause those of us in the “missional camp” to reflect a bit on his critique.
While his “sample size” of examples is inadequate and as you noted, his timeframe too short, I have to admit that I have probably been guilty of pushing the “attractional is bad, missional is good” arguement too often. Over time it has become helpful for me to consider a contiuum rather than an either/or proposition and to use the word “attractional” in terms of being attracted to the community rather than an event.
The Abbess, having stretched out her Kimbal-induced missional “cramp”, says “Amen!” and suggests that Brother Maynard has made an important clarification. It is not that “attractional is bad” in all contexts, but that it is both inappropriate and ineffective in many contexts. Surely there is room in the Body of Christ for diversity in how we go about sharing the good news…I seem to remember Jesus saying something about that a time or two….
I think Dan is asking the right question when he points us back to fruit; however we define “fruit” and what would actually constitute “adequate time to measure” if fruit is happening or not, the question is valid.
One of my concerns for the missional “movement” is that it’s quite possible that it could turn out to be an extremely insular and narcissistic direction: If we DON’T ever look at “fruit”, then we could easily slip into a small, friends-only, bless-me club of like-minded ex-attractional-churchgoers. It’s great to be more missional in our understanding of being the Church and being incarnational, but if we NEVER see evangelism (sorry, bad word) or new conversions (sorry again, more bad words), wouldn’t it suck to look in the mirror one morning and wonder if we’d just been fooling ourselves for ten years (or whatever)?
I’d be pretty disappointed, anyway. I think Dan is doing a good thing by asking the question.
As I posted on the Out of Ur comments, the whole article wasn’t posted and it was an edited down one, plus they came up with the title and sub-title and put the “small church” focus in there, which was not the point.
My primary point was that I hear so much “missional” discussion and am asking about what is happening as a result of it. We use the word missional in our church and I also talked about the word missional and defined it as I know it back in 2003 in “The Emerging Church” book. So it isn’t a new phrase to me. But as I am often hearing from missional thinkers (not all, but a consistant amount) that do say that larger churches aren’t missional and they are attractional and don’t produce disciples but missional churches do – I am asking, what is that being based upon?
I began specifically asking those who have been leading “missional” churches even in large cities for years (not just months or a year or two) about their churches and I am finding that most are remaining small. Again, small is not bad! But is a church is missional it should be reproducing over time to some degree. So even if the church remains small, it launches other small churches or new house churches. I have not found that to be the case in at least the ones I have personally talked with. I do hear “in China! It is happening in China!. But I am asking about the USA, not China. It is an entirely different scenario and context in China.
I am not in a megachurch. I was on staff at a megachurch for 13 years, so I know that world and the pros and cons. But we planted a new church in 2004 so that is the world I am in of a church planter. So I am not defending the larger church, I am trying to raise questions. I guess it was because I have asked some missional leaders who make cases against larger churches about their own church, their years as a missional leader and quite honestly have been shocked hearing the lack of reproduction of new disciples in their “missional” churches. So then it raises my questions of why are some picking on larger attractional churches who are seeing new disciples made, when their own churches have remained pretty much the same group who started the church or hardly any growth of new disciples over many years. I know as a church planter, it takes time, it is not instant-church. But I can only hope and expect that we would see fruit of new disciples in “missional churches” over the years.
Now the question is what makes a “disciple” – and what I also feel that many large churches who get picked on don’t get fairly talked about. ,It is generally from an outside perspective what gets examined. The “show” so to speak of the weekend gathering is what is seen as what defines the church. But when I visit them, and then hear about all that happens during the week. And those attending classes who are growing. And those in mid-week community groups which function as healthy smaller “churches” etc. – and I hear the stories of non-Christians who have become disciples (not just conversions) that are happening. My heart had to repent for some of the attitudes I may have developed by agreeing with some of the missional talk about these larger churches. Of course you can have an unhealthy larger church. And you can have an unhealthy smaller church.
But my point in the Out of Ur blog was not about small vs. big. My point was asking if new disciples being made in missional churches?
I don’t think asking about numbers is a bad thing. I know we have abused numbers. But when you go to a doctor for a physical exam it is filled with numbers. But it is not just one thing. You don’t just get your weight and that says if you are healthy or not. There are skinny people who have high cholesterol and are very unhealthy. You have to look at blood pressure, heart, all types of things they check on you. So in a church, just being small or large doesn’t make one healthy. You need to look at if the fruits of the Spirit are being seen in the lives of the people. If they have servant hearts. If they are involved in the community as salt and light. If they are using their gifts in the body. If they are growing in their knowledge and worship of God through the Scriptures…. all types of things. But one thing that I believe is a reasonable question to ask, would be asking if we are seeing new disciples being made and growth from new Christians. That is all I was trying to ask about with missional churches.
I know larger churches have problems. Like Willow recognized about themselves. But at the same time, there are tens of thousands of people who know Jesus as a result of Willow. Perhaps some left as they didn’t have growth opportunities as they matured in their faith, as was discovered by Willow. But think of the tens of thousands that wouldn’t know Jesus if Willow didn’t do what they did. Now they recognize a weakness and are making corrections. The impact that a church like WiIlow had has been tremendous. What they do for the homeless and poor has been tremendous, in ways that a larger church can rally tens of thousands to do something in amazing ways of impact.
Anyway, i am off track and typing very fast so excuse the errors. But my point was not about small vs. large – it was about missional seeing new disciples made no matter what size. And i am talking about “disciples” not converts. I just think we do need to not be saying larger churches don’t produce disciples as some say.
I kind if think it is easier for larger churches to see new converts/disciples birthed but harder for them to generally mature Christians. I think that it is harder for smaller churches to make new converts/disciples made, but they do a good job of the maturing of already believers. So I am hoping we can learn from all sizes and types of churches. I also wish we would be joining together more instead as the times we are in, we should be celebrating larger churches, smaller churches, whoever is seeing new disciples of Jesus – where those who didn’t know Jesus before put saving faith and trust in Him.
Ultimately, if that isn’t happening, I don’t think we are missional, even if we use the word. Jesus said “Go fish for people”. He didn’t mean go get fish that were already caught. He meant new ones. He said “Go make disciples” (I know not just converts). But you see the pattern of the book of Acts and they were very aggressive of doing whatever it took to see new disciples who did not know who Jesus was before, become followers of Jesus and put faith in Him. So whether small, big, medium, large, missional, attractional – whatever, that we would be praying to see new disciples made. And learn from lessons about unhealth, and do what it takes for healthy growth. but again, if new disciples are being made, it means there will be growth. And I see it firsthand in churches across the country, so I know it is possible. But a lot of them are large! So I think it is possible in larger churches and hope people won’t knock larger churches in the same way larger churches shouldn’t knock smaller churches. The question for all churches, is are healthy disciples being made and new disciples being made?
OK, bye bye!
One further point to add to your observation that not all attractional churches are mega churches: not all mega churches are attractional churches. The church I attend (and at which I am temporarily staffed) presents itself on being “seeker hostile” by emphasizing the “unapologetic proclamation of God’s word.” No secrets, it’s Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicagoland, maybe 30 min. east of Willow Creek. But there is a definite distinction between churches like Willow and Oesteen’s empire, and those like Harvest, whose objective is not to impress seekers into attending. Do I think Harvest’s model is ideal for disciple-making? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m skeptical that it is. Nevertheless, I believe it is accomplishing more to that end than most smaller churches (which, on the whole, tend to stagnation and self-focus). I realize that equating all small churches is as false an overgeneralization as equating all big churches, but hopefully the point is clear that size is not determinative of effectiveness in mission. As Dan K said, there are pros and cons at each size, and I would add (with Keller) that the right balance is found only within each socio-cultural context.
Hi there – I’m a new reader and just wanted to say thanks for posting this! It’s been helpful for me.