7 Reasons Why I Believe in Attractional Evangelism

The topic of attractional evangelism, which I define as “seeking to attract people to church, often through big events” garners much discussion. Some stand by it as a primary, effective, almost necessary means of evangelism in a culture that doesn’t want to hear the gospel. Others reject it as a man-centered, simplistic evangelistic method that waters down the gospel and leads to weak churches. 

I agree that attractional approaches can be man-centered and can, frankly, ignore personal evangelism. On the other hand, I’m unwilling to throw out the proverbial “baby with the bathwater.” Here’s why:

  1. Done well, attractional evangelism is only one tool in the church’s evangelistic toolbox. It’s when it becomes the only tool that I get most concerned. 
  2. Its motivation is usually a genuine desire to reach people for Christ. Sure, it often leads to only transfer growth, with far too little attention to disciplemaking—but that’s not what I’m describing here. Effective attractional evangelism can be motivated by an honest cry for lost people to know Jesus. 
  3. It pushes churches to think about excellence. I’ve never heard a church using attractional evangelism say, “Well, it doesn’t matter if we want to do things in a mediocre way.” Typically, they understand the need to do things well—first, for God’s glory, and second, to attract and keep people. 
  4. It pushes churches to think about contextualization. Contextualization focuses on communicating the gospel clearly and well in a given culture. For some reason, we accept this process as long as we’re serving overseas, but we see it as problematic if we do it on this side of the ocean. My argument is that we must always ask how to best communicate the gospel without compromise, regardless of the people or place we’re trying to reach. It’s hard to do effective attractional evangelism without asking these questions.  
  5. It encourages believers to think about unchurched neighbors and friends. If I can get someone to invite his or her friend to church, I’ve made a step in the right direction. Sometimes, deepening their desire enough to invite others to hear the gospel is the first step to training them to be sound, burdened evangelists. 
  6. It’s one strategy among several to reach people. Again, I’m not arguing for the sole use of this approach. I want to see churches doing personal evangelism, pulpit-based evangelism, small group evangelism, etc. Attractional evangelism is simply another option, albeit one that I’ve seen used effectively. 
  7. It brings people under the preaching of the gospel. That’s the bottom line: it might bring someone to hear the gospel. The church’s work is hardly finished if that person becomes a believer as a result, but the attractional approach may have been the primary evangelistic tool utilized.  

Okay, what are your thoughts?  

16 Comments

  • Robin Jordan says:

    I think that pastors and church leaders may need to size up the culture of the community in order to make the best use of this approach. A personal invitation from newcomers and regular attendees is still the best way to get an unchurched person to attend a worship service or other church function but it just can’t be an invitation alone. Whoever makes the invitation needs to offer to accompany the person they invited to the church function. The folks who are most likely to invite unchurched people are those who know unchurched people and who are excited about the church, the music, the preaching, and the opportunities for ministry, leadership, and friendship. So any strategy involving attractional evangelism requires a strategy for helping newcomers and regular attenders to meet and form relationships with unchurched people and a strategy for generating and maintaining excitement about the church. The “big event” may not be the first event that an unchurched person attends at the church. They may have attended other church functions, e.g., a block party, summer festival, etc., helped to plan and implement a community service project with folks from the church, attended a small group, and so on, before they attend the “big event.”

  • Bill Coen says:

    Attractional Evangelism has been “beat-up” some in recent days. However, over my fifty plus years of ministry, I have seen many hundreds, dare I say thousands, come to know Jesus during special events; music celebrations, concerts, seasonal festivals, conferences, etc. The challenge is always follow up and disciplship; it is work, but it can be done and lives have been eternally changed.

    Of course, nothing replaces daily sharing Christ and weekly worship and Bible study.

    Thank you, Chuck, for sharing.

  • John says:

    I feel like I often have not seen it done well. I’ve seen it become a substitute for personal evangelism and become the end instead of a means to an end. So this post encourages me as I often really struggle with my church’s events. I d think it’d be great to see your thoughts to help a church who’s only strategy for evangelism was attractional events. Thanks for all that you do!

  • We call it community outreach but big event evangelism is very effective. Instead of us going to the mall, the mall comes to us. Once they arrive at the event, it is important to:
    1. Connect early
    2. Zero in on one person
    3. Involve them in conversation (small talk)
    4. Ask them if they have any prayer requests. “We have a prayer group at our church that meets every Monday night. Is there something that you would like us to pray about for you or your family.” (Seldom do we get turned down).
    5. Gently ask for as much contact information as possible and write it down on a prayer card.
    6. Ask them if you can contact them in the next week to see how God is working in their lives.
    7. Spend time with them and introduce them to other people in the church who fit into their age group, lifestyle (single or family), to make them feel comfortable about your church family.
    8. Introduce them to one of the pastors or elders.

    Bruce Hitchcock

  • Taylor says:

    I confess I’m biased against attractional evangelism. I’ve not seen it done well. Here’s what frustrated me about it:
    1. Attracting people to the church takes the focus off of the laymember’s responsibility to evangelize outside of the event
    2. Often members equate giving out hotdogs (read volunteering for some tasks) with obedience to Christ in life on life discipleship
    3. Attractonalism tends to reach only those who are already open to walking into the walls of the church (reinforcing our inability to understand an unbelieving culture truly wants nothing to do with us)
    4. Attractionalism tends not to develop the congregation’s ability to personally evangelize while encouraging the superstar skills of a speaker (encouraging celebrity Christians/pastors)
    5. Attractionalism often requires the church to spend more time preparing for events on their property rather than sending members out to be salt and light amongst their neighborhoods/community.
    6. Attractionalism unintentionally pressures church members to equate obedience to Jesus with serving in a program rather than being sensitive to the God-ordained opportunities given through being a faithful family member, employee, community member.
    7. Often, attractionalism leaves Church staff as YMCA coordinators rather than teaching the Church God’s Word in a variety of discipleship ministries. This ultimately leads to the shallowing of the conviction of the members because their used to being plugged into the cogs of a program rather than learning to take biblical principles and applying them to their individual contexts.

    I realize I’m sounding upset pessimistic. I don’t mean to. This is just a burden of mine because I’ve not seen attractionalism done in a way that it produces disciples aware of their missions responsibilities outside the program. Thank you for letting me share my disagreements.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for your honest thoughts, Taylor. I don’t disagree with you that these are potential problems; I’m just not convinced they’re inevitable issues. At the same time, I never want attractional approaches to be the only one.  

  • Shae says:

    If you include Vacation Bible School as attractional evangelism, no one can argue the point. It is the biggest evangelistic outreach most churches do, and sometimes the only one they do, and the results are there.

  • Art Fulks says:

    A person (or church) could potentially distinguish between attractional and event evangelism. My 20+ years of full-time ministry has seen many churches, leaders and volunteers build their identities (and personal value) around events that contribute little to any defined strategic disciple-making process. Lately, however, I have been convicted about providing strategic invitation opportunities and have re-engaged events in the process. We are making them less complex and more economical, trying to capitalize on contextual opportunities. Long-term success? I’m not sure yet. However, we are striving to attach them to our defined disciple-making core areas…and they basically have proven to build bridges for new people and/or momentum for the core things we do.

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