A little background: When the church first started, it met with a lot of opposition. It was a pre-churched culture, where people didn’t know what Christianity was about and had never heard of some Hebrew preacher named Jesus of Nazareth. But over time, the Gospel spread, because Christians had a reputation for extreme love, like picking up discarded babies on the roadside and adopting them, or when a plague would hit a city, and the healthy would leave to avoid the plague, the healthy Christians would stay behind to minister to the sick and dying, even though many of them would end up dying in the process.
Most Western churches use the Attractional model and have used it for over a century but especially within the past 70 years. It focused on attracting people to come to church, bringing them to the property. Once on site, we hope they’ll stay based on the preaching, music, décor, friendliness, or whatever. That model worked in a churched culture where “Christian” was synonymous with “good citizen.” More or less, the Western world has been churched since Constantine legalized Christianity and essentially made it the state religion in the late 4th C. In a churched culture, politicians attend services on Sunday morning regardless what they believe, because it makes them look good to the general populace. Note that the Attractional model will increase the number of people in the pews still today, but mainly transfer growth or churched Christians, not the unchurched or dechurched.
But since the 60’s, and especially in the past 20-30 years, we’ve been moving gradually to a post-churched culture. The church is now seen with suspicion. It’s irrelevant. Evangelism is considered extremism. We find ourselves in a similar situation as the early church, where the church is no longer at the center of the culture, except people have heard of Christians and see us more as a voting bloc than a movement of love.
In response to that, a new movement started in England by Mike Breen, who saw the Christian church there decaying. He looked at the way the church functioned in its early years and decided to follow the model of the apostles, so he formed “Missional Communities,” small groups (like “the 12” or even the 4 in the Gospels) centered on the Bible who would go out into their local contexts (neighborhoods, workplaces, etc.) and get involved in the community together, building relationships, inviting others into their Missional Community. Eventually, those small groups grew and split and grew until multiple groups came together for medium-sized groups (like “the 72” in the Gospels) who would have Bible studies similar to what we have here (while still meeting and serving with their small groups), and the medium groups eventually came together for large groups (like “the crowds” in the Gospels) for corporate public worship. This model has been replicated around the US with great success. I’ve talked to Mike Breen personally about implementation and spent a couple thousand hours listening to him and others who use the Missional Model. I’ve also listened to pastors from China, where they’re Baptizing 30,000 people per day where they can go to jail for it, and the model they’re using is very similar, because when trained to live their faith and pass it on to others, disciples make disciples.
Understand that Attractional and Missional aren’t mutually exclusive. Heating the church in the winter, having a website and sign out front, preaching to “felt needs” (every one of my sermons centers around a real-life question with an answer found in Christ.) and remodeling the sanctuary are all Attractional methods, and they’re necessary to seeing people come back, but they won’t get an unchurched person here in the first place. That also gets to the question of what’s our goal in outreach, but this is getting long enough already.
To this end, we’re developing Delivered Hope. So what does Delivered Hope have to do with this? It gives people who are used to a solely Attractional model a taste of what Missional outreach looks and feels like. It gets us collectively into the community, changing our focus to working with the community for the greater good. It’s a way to make it easy for people who aren’t used to outreach that reaches out.
Strange phenomena seen with churches that shift their focus to more Missional: people start showing up—not the people directly affected by or involved in the efforts. I hear this over and over. It’s as if God is saying, “OK, now that you’re shifting your focus outward, I’ll send help.” But we also need to move our focus and goals away from numbers on the weekend to number of disciples making disciples.