Mauricio Chenlo is the Denominational Minister for Church Planting with Mennonite Church USA. You can follow him on Facebook at Church Planting Mennonite Church USA.
In the world of evangelical mission-minded folks, a new polarity has emerged in the last few years: attractional vs. incarnational. Polarities get the attention of many people because of their sensational connotations.
The argument goes like this:
Attractional Mission: Attractional approaches to church planting have to do with using “pop culture” means to attract newcomers. Attractional ministry can often raise awareness of the church’s presence in the community that surrounds it. When a church does attractional ministry activities or programs, it will often do some kind of marketing (whether small-scale Facebook promotions or large-scale banners, websites and newspaper ads). These channels will often serve as a way to advertise the church’s presence in a given community, especially to those who would be part of the church if they simply knew it was there. The goal is to try to attract people to come to your church.
Incarnational Mission: The argument for this kind of mission suggests that it grows out of Jesus’ example. It suggests that we need to be embedded in the community we are supposed to serve. The goal is to build genuine relationships where good news is experienced and shared. The language of suffering, sacrifice, walking with the marginalized and so on is typical of this kind of approach. And, of course who would argue against this “holy” and “prophetic” approach?
My two cents on this: American culture uses attractional means everywhere, and we are part of a cultural fabric that values market economy above all. We’ve got to sell it, baby! Most of our cherished Mennonite institutions have marketing/communications departments and our colleges will use any means to attract new students to their programs. Let’s face it, we live and breathe competition and try to find our space to place our products!
You can be both attractional and incarnational. Jesus used several means to get the attention of the crowds: he fed them; made spectacular miracles, including the resurrection of a friend; and he even went into the temple and made a spectacular prophetic demonstration! Jesus certainly got the attention of his audience; he knew how to “market” his “product”. And he also entered deeply into relationship with the people he met.