Attractional vs. Incarnational

First of all, I'm posting two articles in one night, so check to see if you've read the one below, too...

Anyway, I just wanted to mull over some ideas about the way evangelism is done. I mentioned in a previous post that we're moving our "postmodern" ministry from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach. What I mean by that is this: instead of starting a church service ("top") and having people come to that service and then hopefully start other ways to provide spiritual growth through, say, small groups, we start with smaller groups that are church ("bottom") and then, as the need arises, provide a larger worship gathering for those groups.

In some of the literature I've been reading, the words used to describe these two different strategies of ministry are attractional and incarnational. Attractional churches say, "Here we are. Here's what we offer. Come to our church." They work very hard to attract people to their church. Incarnational churches say, "We're going to go to where you are. We want to know what's going on in your life and we want to become a part of what's going on in your life."

Some argue (and I think I tend to agree) that the incarnational is the more biblical. After all, God didn't try to attract us to himself--he was incarnated in Jesus. He came into our world and met us where we were (John 1:14 - "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.").

Even then, however, there was some attraction involved. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." But Jesus didn't try to attract people until after he had gone into their world. Only then did he say, "Come."

I think the attractional worked for a long time--especially in a culture that was to a large extent ecclesiocentric (How's that for a big word? Can you believe I just made it up--it means "church-centered."). When most people went to church, all a church had to do was provide what people wanted.

But now that most people are not interested in church, we have to be willing to go into their world. They sure as heck don't want to come into the world of the church!

Here's a short but really helpful article that goes a little more in depth on incarnational and attractional ministry. And here's one that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of not two, but three, different approaches to evangelism.


DGH said...

Dude Aaron...I am teling you...you have got to read and have your core team read the book, "a.k.a. "Lost"
by Jim Henderson! Man it is the best way to really find out the best way of relating the Gospel in the world we live in! The website is called:


Go there and DL any of the videos and it is really great!

Markus Watson said...

Hey, D.G.... Did you notice you called me Aaron?? Heh heh...

Cory Justus said...

Hey Marcus,
Sorry, I have not talked to you in so long, but Dustin told me about his blog thing after class one day. And I noticed you were on here, and I have been wanting to talk to you for a while, but I lost your email address.
I think that you are right about there being both attractional and incarnational Biblical examples. But I think you could argue that both ways of doing ministry could attract different personality types; extroverts and introverts for example. The extrovert being more of the attractional type due to there more out going personality type they would probably be more assertive in plugging into the church.
While the introvert would be better suited in a small group situation and would probably grow more spiritually; I know I did. I think you and your church our headed down the right path with this small group idea. Because this is the way you got me to come to church by showing interest in my life and inviting me to a Bible Study. And, it always amazes me to see how the ministry that God and you did together out here is still going on. But now through the leadership that we are able to give because of the wisdom you gave us.

Markus Watson said...


It's so good to hear from you!! That's a pretty good point about attractional working better for extroverts and incarnational working better for introverts. I do think you're right--there's a place for both kinds of ministry. The challenge is to offer incarnational ministry since it's harder than attractional. Most churches are already good at doing attractional church. We're not as good at doing incarnational church.

Dustin Reynolds said...

I feel like I havent talked to you in forever. In other words...we should talk soon haha. Take care

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