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Gospel and Method
Method: Attractional or Organic?
Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church and They Like Jesus But Not the Church fame recently resurfaced the attractional-versus-incarnational debate in an article called “Missional Misgivings.” In this article, he suggests that very few missional churches are actually growing or reaching the lost, and that what we need is more attractional megachurches. Neil Cole, of Organic Church fame, responded by arguing that smaller organic churches avoid the consumerism of larger churches, while also fostering growth by multiplication, not addition. In a blog response to Kimball, Cole writes, “A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more” (emphasis added). The debate between Cole and Kimball, between attractional and organic, is largely a debate over method. What method should we use when planting and leading churches? Do methods matter? Does the gospel allow for all kinds of methods, or does it prohibit some? Should we be more concerned with debating the gospel or our methods? This series of posts will try to answer some of these questions. What is the role of method in the gospel?
Context is King
If we have learned anything from the history of missions, surely it is that God uses a variety of methods to bring in the lost sheep of his kingdom. Jesus himself attracted large crowds through preaching and feeding multitudes. Jesus told organic, mustard seed parables about the growth of the kingdom of God. He spent time with a few disciples and with crowds of thousands. What about the church? Consider the church beyond America. Small house churches are immensely effective in China, and large attractional churches are incredibly effective in South Korea, both reaching hundreds of thousands of people. It would seem that, when it comes to methods, context is king. Communist China calls for house churches; Christianized South Korea calls for big churches. This is a simplification, but the point remains that context is king—unless your contextualization compromises gospel integrity, in which case it is no longer contextualization but syncretism. But how do we discern between church methods that are syncretistic and methods that are contextualized? We must have a clear understanding of the gospel.
Perhaps we need to be debating the strength of the gospel that is being preached, taught, shared, and shown in our churches. Are we incarnating and attracting people to a diluted gospel or a strong gospel? Are we incarnating kitsch gospel or kerygmatic gospel? In the end, what are we calling people to? Is our gospel both missional and communal or inward and individualistic? If it’s the latter, then something is wrong with our gospel. What would happen if we stopped debating methods and started debating gospel—winsomely and charitably? In our next post, we will attempt to refine the debate over methods by refocusing debate onto the gospel.