I recently sat with a pastor friend of mine in the Bay Area who is seeking to radically reorient the life of his faith community away from viewing the church as merely a weekly gathering and towards daily life in neighborhood. Strikingly insightful, he said, “I have found that we can live in our neighborhoods without ever actually living life within them.”
There is much conversation swirling around the attractional versus missional church models. In short (and in what is inevitably an overgeneralization), attractional models pour their time and resources into worship services so as to create a place that non-believers will want to come and be exposed to the reality of Jesus. The church campus and/or gathering is the central place or hub to where others are drawn. In contrast, the missional church embraces the mission of God and God’s extension into humanity by moving outside the traditional church walls and into the lives of individual non-believers with the hope of introducing them to Jesus in their local context. As such, the focus is not on a central worship gathering, but on equipping believers who are sent to be good news to their neighbors, coworkers, and families.
For the sake of this conversation, we prefer the word extractional over the word attractional when speaking of the traditional (at least in reference to the last 100 years), worship-service-centered church structures. First, a missional community is also going to be attractional (albeit in ways much different from that of the former definition) as people are inherently wired for community and are enlivened by shared practices. Second, and most importantly, the traditional church is extractional in the sense that it extracts people from their local contexts to attend a church service and inadvertently teaches us that church is something you go to rather than someone you are in the places you inhabit. Many of these people have been taught that attending a church service and serving in it is the central act of our Christian vocation.
Not only is there potential for the extractional church to sell people short in their understanding of Christian vocation, but it also pulls them out of the contexts in which they live and often disconnects their contribution from their everyday context. Rather than extracting its participants from a place, a missional community is designed to equip its people within a context to enter the stories of those we live alongside. In doing so, we are able to meet people where they are and begin to create a viral movement of embedded followers of Christ who are transforming individuals, communities, neighborhoods, and cities through the power of Jesus.
Living out the submerging posture is the antithesis of the extractional model. When we submerge rather than trying to find ways to draw people into another world, we take it upon ourselves to draw close to our neighbors in contexts that are normative to them. The gospel as Jesus proclaimed it transcends our expectations for where it should be extended and has the potential to come to life in the mundane or unexpected realities of everyday life.
When we submerge, we resist the temptation to drive by the ugly or unglamorous realities of our local context. Instead, led by the power of the Spirit, we pour our time, energy, and heart into the often forgotten places and people with the hopes that the gospel of Jesus might be made real by transforming the realities that envelop us.
What would your church community look like if it poured more of its energy into submerging into the narratives of neighborhood than into programs that extract your community from life in their neighborhood(s)? How might that free up the People of God to be Good News in their local contexts?
Want to put flesh and blood to this idea? Check out our Submerging video from the Thin Places Small Group Edition