How to attract people who are ready to receive God’s Word
Is it possible to improve the environment of your church so that the seed of God’s Word has a better chance of growing? There is a movement of churches that believe so, and because of their ability to attract large numbers of people to their places of worship, these churches have been described as attractional. But is there biblical grounds for this model of ministry?
In the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus presents the results of seeds sown in different environments—different types of soil. Some soil was not conducive to growth, and the seed was either stolen away, produced little fruit or didn’t grow at all. In other words, the Word could not produce fruit in the wrong environment. It sounds close to heresy to say that God’s Word needs the right environment to be effective, but according to the parable, this is the case.
The environment in this parable is the hearts of the hearers. Some people do not understand the Word, so the evil one steals what was planted in their hearts. Then there are others who hear the Word and at once accept it with joy, but since they have no root, their belief withers. Next are the ones who receive the seed that falls among the thorns. These are people who hear the Word, “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22).
Finally, we come to the people whose hearts are ready to receive the Word. “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands?it,?who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:23).
God’s Word is all-powerful and able to produce fruit in a person’s life. But if the heart is not prepared to receive it, it can bear little or no fruit at all. The failure is not the fault of God’s Word but the state of the heart.
Our challenge is to create an environment in our churches that prepares the hearts of hearers to receive the Word, so they will in turn bring forth much fruit. Is it possible that we can “prepare the soil” of the hearts of hearers to be more receptive? Is there an environment in which the Word of God is more readily understood and received? Attractional churches have found ways to create that fertile soil, and when the environment is right, preaching with grace and power will bring forth fruit.
So the question arises: How do you create that environment, and what image of God do you communicate? This makes a huge difference in whether people will encounter God when they come to your church. When your church sets up these divine encounters, people will leave your building not only in a deeper relationship with God, but also eager to lead others to the same.
The attractional church never loses sight of the souls for whom Christ died, with a passion to reach outward to cultures that the church has neglected. It engages these cultures through a relevant, relational approach to communicating the gospel.
Theologically, the attractional church’s message is biblically based, but the way the Bible is presented is influenced by the surrounding culture. Christ never changes, but the methods we employ must change to relate to every person in the pew. The content of the message plus the way it’s delivered will bring positive change into the hearers’ lives.
Once we learn what gives a person a positive church experience and begin to implement those life-giving practices, we start to reap the benefits of a good reputation. When your church is known for creating a safe environment for the unchurched, it becomes an attractional church. Visitors’ needs are met, and they leave with a desire to return.
What’s more, they freely invite their friends, and those friends come back on their own, bringing their loved ones with them. When this begins to happen, your church will gain momentum and begin to grow. When your church services leave a warm feeling in the hearts of visitors and members, they will come back again and again. Many will give their hearts to Christ and will become ready to explore the deeper life with God.
1. Empowering leadership. Leaders of attractional churches do not try to build their own authority to become all-powerful—exactly the opposite. One of their most important tasks is to help Christians develop greater degrees of empowerment, which, according to God’s plan, already belong to them.
2. Gift-oriented ministry. God has already determined which Christians should best assume which ministries in the church. The role of church leadership is to help its members identify their gifts and integrate them into ministries that match their gifts.
3. Passionate spirituality. In healthy churches, the way genuine spirituality is expressed is not as important as having a faith that is actually lived out with commitment, fire and enthusiasm.
4. Prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting were regular disciplines of the early church, but they are two of the most underutilized and misunderstood faith practices of the present-day church. Lead your congregation in prayers of praise and petition, and make fasting a habit as a means of sacrificial praise, obedience and trust.
5. Compassionate, need-oriented evangelism and missions. When a culture of compassion for the needy permeates the local church, the light of God will shine in their hearts. Jesus’ passion was and is to relieve the pain of people who suffer.
6. Endurance, tenacity and perseverance. Endurance in the face of hardship is the sign of a good soldier and the mark of a true follower of Christ.
7. Functional structures, location and logistical arrangements. Attractional churches constantly examine themselves by asking, Does it work? Is it obvious, easy and strategic? Church structures should never be an end in themselves, but a means to an end—which is to win souls to Christ. Healthy churches change—or lay to rest—whatever does not measure up to this requirement.
8. Inspiring worship. When early Jews first heard the good news of God’s grace, there were outbursts of joy and praising God in the streets of Jerusalem. This contagious exuberance spread throughout the entire known world, fueled by one thing: the apostles’ doctrine, the message of Jesus Christ.
Today, people who attend inspiring worship services declare that the church service is not only inspiring and exhilarating, but fun—and they return for more.
9. Holistic small groups. Many healthy churches have developed a system of small groups in which individual Christians can find intimate community, practical help and intensive spiritual interaction. These groups become the essence of the true life of the church as participants apply biblical insight to the everyday issues of the participants.
10. Giving and sharing. As we learn to give to the church and share with others, we tap into the goodness of God and His provision. A giving culture is an expression of the nature of God.
11. Establishing and maintaining loving relationships. Unfeigned, practical love endows a church with a much greater magnetic power than all the marketing efforts of this world.
12. A Bible-based foundation. Without this attribute, your church is just another social club. Sure, the first 11 are key components of an attractional church, but a foundation of biblical preaching and teaching is the absolute source of life-giving nourishment.
Given these dozen characteristics, it’s time to assess: Is your church an attractional church? Is it refreshing, relevant and relational?
Like ice-cold lemonade for someone who has toiled in the hot summer sun, your church can revive parched souls when people drink deeply from the oasis of the Spirit. It can be relevant, a place where members know that their problems matter and ministries relate to their real issues.
Your church can be relational, a place of loving and warm friendships where handshakes and hugs are more than polite gestures, where members have real relationships based on the love of Christ. If authentic, life-giving friendships exist in your church, not only will many be attracted to your doors, but you will find that they will stay!
Billy Hornsby has ministered for more than 30 years, working with church leaders nationally and internationally. Billy is the president of the Association of Related Churches (arcchurches.com), a nationwide church-planting organization.
Out, In, Up: Ways to Extend Your Church’s Reach
Ask yourself, ‘What are we doing strategically to make people feel comfortable and welcome?” Think of it as bridge building. Jesus did it all the time. Whether it was a party with Matthew’s friends, a reception at the wedding of a friend or an unexpected meal with 5,000 strangers, Jesus had a unique way of connecting with the people He was called to reach. The point is that you connect intentionally in the way that suits your God-given gifts and in the way that’s needed by your community.
Think of your church’s ministries as a triangle: New converts fellowship with other believers; that fellowship aids in discipleship; effective discipleship equips believers for evangelism, which brings more converts into the fold. Then together we all worship and adore the Father. We can also think of this as outreach (to unbelievers or unchurched), inreach (to believers within the church) and upreach (to God).
Outreach comes first. Once we get people through the doors, we want them to stay, to be changed forever by the presence and power of God. But for us to have effective outreach to our families, friends and the world around us, we will need to also have effective inreach to our church members.
Jesus’ inreach to the men He wanted to lead equipped them to do even greater works than He did while on earth. It was His plan. Effective inreach, the development of leaders, equals ongoing outreach. And it’s cultivating a collective passion to chase after God—that’s the upreach of the church.
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