5 Practices for Fruitful Congregations in a Post-Attractional Era By Robert Schnase
Robert Schnase is Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is the author of many books, most recently Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Revised and Updated (Abingdon Press, 2018. Available through Amazon).
“Most congregations operate with attractional assumptions. They imagine that a person, couple, or family becomes aware of their church, perhaps through the invitation of a friend, an advertisement on a billboard, or by driving past the sanctuary. Churches then hope that what the new persons hear or see will draw them toward the congregation. They assume that the visitors will share a common interest in the purpose of the church or feel a desire to form an affinity with the church. A yearning to learn, grow spiritually, belong, and serve will cause them to visit and will lead them to greater participation. We assume this is the pathway for entry into the church because it matches the experience of many people who currently belong.”
Schnase argues that in the past the culture expected people to attend worship and people wanted to be members of a church. He asks: “What happens when people no longer trust institutions in general or the church in particular? Or when next generations don’t share a taste for the style of music we offer in worship and don’t appreciate the one-way verbal communication of a sermon? Becoming a member of anything is unappealing to many people and does not motivate them to deepen their spiritual lives They are not seeking to join anything.”
‘What happens when generations of people living around us have no experience with worship, no vocabulary for understanding faith, no familiarity with scripture, and have never once stepped inside a church? The culture provides an ever-increasing number of competing activities on Sundays that are more compelling than church attendance. When people do not find the idea of church appealing, they are not attracted to what we do, no matter how well we do it.”
A significant Shift
What is required, according to Schnase, is a significant shift.
• “Come to us” ideas must be balanced with “go to them” initiatives.
• Strategies for doing things “better” must be strengthed with ideas of doing things “differently.”
• Teaching people to “do things our way” must be intermixed with “learning new things” from others.
• Doing ministry “for” becomes doing ministry “with.”
• Welcoming the guest expands to becoming a newcomer among others.
• Increasing activities “in the church” shifts toward offering ministries “beyond our facilities.”
• Making our church more interesting to others expands to becoming more interested in the spiritual needs and real-life issues of others.
• Receiving people in the spirit of Christ expands to being sent to people around us in the spirit of Christ.
The New Five Practices
Schanase argues that attractional models are helpful and necessary but not enough. “We need to develop ministries that derive from missional assumptions, activities that primarily benefit people who are not members of the church, often in places far away from their facilities. These ministries require a different posture toward our neighbors, a more deliberate outward focus, and a willingness to carry Christ’s love to where people already live and work and play, rather than hoping for people to come to us.” Cochrane Street United Church (CSUC) can build on what we are and extend our ministries to enclose these five practices.
1. Radical hospitality
CSUC is already a hospitable church. We welcome all to coffee and fellowship after Sunday worship. How can we carry this hospitability with us into our neighborhoods, work life, and our lives during the rest of the week? Can we form relationships with people who live next door?
2. Passionate worship
What happens Sunday morning is important. But, how can worship beyond Sunday morning to also become “mobile, portable, on the move, going where people live, and work, and play”?
3. Intentional faith development
Can we focus more on “experiental learning, mentoring, spiritual formation, and forming relationships” in addition to offering content-based education in Bible studies and Sunday school classes?
4. Risk-taking mission and service
How can we do ministry with those in need? What are the needs?
5. Extravagant generosity
Can we help people learn to love generosity as a way of life and not just a way of supporting the church
Selection from A Song of Faith
We are called together by Christ, as a community of broken but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved, living what he taught, striving to be faithful servants of God
in our time and place. Our ancestors in faith bequeath to us experiences of their faithful living; upon their lives our lives are built. Our living of the gospel makes us a part of this communion of saints, experiencing the fulfillment of God’s reign even as we actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth.
The church has not always lived up to its vision. It requires the Spirit to reorient it,
helping it to live an emerging faith while honoring tradition, challenging it to live by grace rather than entitlement, for we are called to be a blessing to the earth. AmenSCRIPTURE RELATED TO STRATEGIC PLANNING
Paul wrote letters to the early church. These selections pertain to the need for planning, or what to include in planning.
1 Corinthians 14
• God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (verse 33)
Ephesians 2: 4
Verses 1-16 is entitled Unity in the Body of Christ.
• I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all, and in all. (verses 1-6)
• To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it …. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets. Some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…. Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (verses 7-16)
Verses 17-32 is entitled Living as Children of Light. The advice is a code of how to work together. I encourage a full read of this section. I include a few examples:
• Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body….Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3: 12-17
The first section in this chapter is entitled Rules for Holy Living. It stresses the need for unity, as this selection reveals:
• Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.