What’s Wrong With Attractional?

I have posted several times about my aversion to attractional style youth ministry. At some point, I realize that I would have to give a reason for that. No time like the present as my acquaintance and fellow Rooted friend, Dave Wright, just published this Brief History of Youth Ministry over at the Gospel Coalition. Dave summarizes the results of youth ministry in the past:

“Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of “edu-tainment” as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.”

I couldn’t have said it better. The questions I get when debunking attractional ministry are usually something like, “Shouldn’t ministry attract people?” To that I say, “Absolutely!” But what should be the attraction? Should it be things or the Creator of things?

When we, for whatever reason, think that the gospel in itself isn’t attractive, we have lost sight of our faith. Using entertainment to dress up our faith or baiting outreach with gimmicks shows an individual loss of the need for the good news.

What I have seen in myself and others is a loss of acknowledgement. When I can’t see my own need for grace and forgiveness, I make the sacrifice of Jesus inadequate in my own mind. When that happens, I don’t think that sacrifice is enough and have to add to it. That is the essence of attractional ministry.

However, when I live in the tension of my own moral failings and realize my need for a savior, then the gospel is enough for me. In fact, it’s really the only thing that will satisfy.

10 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Attractional?”

  1. The gospel, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing. The Church, in its purest form, is the bride of Christ. Our churches and religion, however, can become detractors to the very gospel we seek to present to a lost and dying world.

    What I see at the extremes are churches that are hip and cool but aren’t challenging their people to grow and churches that are so focused on being unattractional that they succeed.

    The balance comes somewhere in the middle. Not attractional/relevant for the sake of such things, but “attractional” in the sense that we remove as much of the human baggage of “church” and present the gospel in a light that is relevant and beautiful without diluting the power of Christ’s sacrifice.

    1. Chris, this is a good point. Rarely does someone completely go to one extreme or the other. I hope that as people see the two extremes that they can take an honest look for themselves and decide if adjustments need to be made. My own need to adjust prompted this post.

  2. The gospel, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing. The Church, in its purest form, is the bride of Christ. Our churches and religion, however, can become detractors to the very gospel we seek to present to a lost and dying world.

    What I see at the extremes are churches that are hip and cool but aren’t challenging their people to grow and churches that are so focused on being unattractional that they succeed.

    The balance comes somewhere in the middle. Not attractional/relevant for the sake of such things, but “attractional” in the sense that we remove as much of the human baggage of “church” and present the gospel in a light that is relevant and beautiful without diluting the power of Christ’s sacrifice.

  3. Very thoughtful and of course I couldn’t agree more. In and of itself I don’t have a problem with the word attractional…if by that we mean “attracting youth to the truth and life of the Christian faith.” But too often attractional ministry means using entertainment/distraction to attract teens and then hoping we might use that as an opportunity to slip in some Jesus stuff. In a way, that approach smacks of manipulation.

  4. Thanks for this post. I read this over at the gospel coalition’s website yesterday. I love this statement that you made, “But what should be the attraction? Should it be things or the Creator of things?” How can we as youth workers change the culture in churches that expect from youth pastors.

    1. Kolby, the more I talk to other guys in youth ministry, the more I realize I’m not alone as I thought. I’m sure you agree over at youthministrymedia. The more we talk about this and engage each other in open forums, the change becomes probable instead of possible.

  5. Great response, Paul. Yes, the Gospel, the reality that we are loved and accepted perfectly by God forever through the work of Jesus on the Cross, yes, this is enough. There is nothing more attractive than this reality.

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