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In their book Introducing the Missional Church, Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren make a convincing case that the “missional” model that has become popular over the last couple of decades represents a way of being church that is more appropriate for our present era than the traditional model, which they call the “attractional church.” We have entered a new period in church history, they argue, and that old model just doesn’t work anymore.

The attractional church model is based on the if-you-build-it-they-will-come assumption. The responsibility of the local church is to create strong programs, vibrant worship experiences, and so forth that will attract outsiders into the church. This was fine (or at least not so problematic) during the heyday of the establishment church in the 1950s and ‘60s, when our culture was much more homogeneous and church attendance was expected, if not assumed. It doesn’t work as well in the twenty-first century, when secularism and pluralism are the order of the day, and the church has become just one option among many in the cultural landscape.

Roxburgh and Boren say that the church needs a new model—a missional model—for this new era. Unfortunately, most churches have not gotten the memo, and continue to try to tweak the attractional model instead of doing the necessary revamping of their identities to remain faithful to the gospel in this changed environment. We have a lot of money, energy, and history invested in our buildings and programs, and that makes it hard to see the world through a different paradigm. The weight of all that money, energy, and history can cause a degree of inertia that is hard to overcome.

The missional model, as distinct from the attractional one, understands missions not as a program of the church but as the church’s raison d’être. A missional church does not see itself as an end in itself, but as an instrument for advancing the commonwealth of God in the world. The mission of the church is not to ensure its own survival, but to promote justice, peace, and reconciliation in its local community and beyond.

To do this, the church first has to know its community. Instead of guessing at the needs of our neighbors and designing programs to meet those imagined needs, we must actually go into the neighborhood and listen to people to learn what is really going on in their lives and what they are really concerned about.

What would this mean for Community United Church of Christ? What can we do to carry out God’s mission in our specific context? How can we find out the real questions our neighbors are asking and mold our efforts to meet their real needs, not what we imagine their needs might be?

One possible idea is to hold topical discussion groups and “listening sessions” in the community. How to organize these sessions and carry them out is an important but secondary consideration. First, we have to commit ourselves to the project and exercise the courage and determination it will take to implement it. We also need to prepare ourselves to be open to what we hear. Our goal is not to invade our community armed with a preconceived agenda; we want to listen and learn.

Right now this is just one person’s rumination, but maybe it will strike a chord with you as well. If you would like to be a part of this movement to discern where the winds of the Spirit are blowing in the borough of St. Lawrence and then to follow God into those places, give me a call or a text, or shoot me an email, and we’ll continue the conversation.

Grace and peace,