The Apostle Paul and the Attractional Model of Church Growth

One of the continuing controversies within church ministry circles concerns whether we opt for an attractional model or an incarnational model for church method. Helpfully, many are going for the middle “AND” route that points out how both are good models than can blend together.

Yet too often in these conversations these principles and models are discussed with allusions and indirect references to the biblical text without Corinthactually concerning ourselves with the text.

Proponents of the incarnational model often point out that the methods and systems of the attractional model are not featured in the Bible (God hadn’t invented the electric guitar yet) and thus justify their approach as the “organic” or __(insert buzzword)    biblical model. So what might be some biblical arguments for an attractional model?

Having some time to read this past week, I came across a couple of points about the nature of Paul’s “church growth method” as it related to his work in various communities. Most of these insights, below, will be coming from reflections drawn out of Robert Gehring’s excellent House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early ChristianityThis text is a recent research work that helpfully explores the centrality and design of early houses churches within the first Christian communities and how they related to each other and promulgated the growth of Christianity as whole.

At one point in the text, Gehring notes (pg 203,) a bit off-hand, that Paul had an intention method of evangelization where he specifically “targeted” (Gehring doesn’t use this word) several well to-do members of society in Corinth. Leveraging insights from such passages as

It boils down to the point that Paul had a specific church growth method as he went into towns and cities to plant, water, and grow churches in those communities. Specifically here he cites 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 where Paul points out that he baptized Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanus in the name of Jesus Christ. Later, in 1 Corintihans 16:15-17, Paul names several key leaders in the house church structure of Corinth including Stephanus. Gehring’s point is that Paul had a specific missionary target in seeking out individuals such as Stephanus who would have been wealthy citizens of Corinth. Since the primary gathering spaces for the earliest Christian communities were households, no Christian structures are known for another one hundred and fifty years, having willing converts with adequate space to hold gatherings would have been vital to the growth of churches in various communities.

As a result we can say the earliest church growth model Paul uses incorporates aspects of an attractional model. Paul had a target audience.

Now, before we press this point too far, Paul is not setting up shop in these towns to reach Saddleback Sam or Willow Creek Wendy. Instead, part of Paul’s missionary strategy would have been to seek out specific key individuals to help in growing the church. It is a form of church growth strategy, but this has limitations.

House Church in JerusalemOther examples in the Pauline literature are likely available, though limited. Corinthians, perhaps because of Paul’s deep concern for the spiritual and ethical sustainability of this key Peloponnesian city received specific attention that isn’t found in the remaining Pauline Hauptbriefen. So what do we make of this?

Well, I do think Gehring has made a good point so long as we don’t push it beyond its reasonable limits. Paul’s missionary strategy as an entry point certainly appears to have a strategic focus. He would first go to the local synagogue and then the town’s agora (or marketplace.) Since the house church structure of the earliest Christian communities was necessary for the survival of the local churches being started by the Apostles around the world, having adequate space to meet would be important. Paul’s aim was certainly to reach as many people from as many diverse socio-political backgrounds with the Gospel. However, there does seem to be a particular point here that Paul kept in focus finding at least one leader with suitable accommodations to house the church.

As Larry Hurtado has recently pointed out, the earliest Christian communities weren’t made up of poor, illiterate, commoners but there was a blend of socio-economic backgrounds. This certainly led to some troubles, as it does today. Church is that uncommon cultural commons where rich, middle class, and poor all meet and share space and faith in common.

While I do think Gehring’s points about the use of house churches across the earliest Christian communities goes a bit too far, he is right in pointing out that where they were used there needed to be accommodating individuals who could house these gatherings. Once the Christians were removed from the local synagogues and the Temple due to their heretical beliefs (to Judaism) and their constant proselytizing (among other issues) they would have needed other structures. Houses were the most common and those who held gatherings had unique leadership roles (cf. Philemon.) Edward Adams has recently put out an intriguing text that offers a more generous view in The Earliest Christian Meeting Places:  Almost Exclusively Houses?

Now, before we get too far afield, Paul’s model of church growth does appear to have a specific attractional quality to it. He sought out specific individuals to help build the church.

As Paul went out and about his missionary efforts, finding these individuals not only provided structural support for the church in a local community it also allowed an influential family to bring in other Christians. (Even today wealth equals influence.) So, while we can’t go too far in pushing this point, we can note how Paul’s church growth model had an attractional element to it. Perhaps this adds to our understanding of the “AND” position on church growth models. 

Dec 2013



Staffing Models in Churches

How do you staff a church?

In the contemporary church landscape there is likely few things which are full of mystery and frustration as the nature of staffing the church. For many non-profit organizations, finding and supporting new talent is one of the pressing issues.

Since most churches operate within budgetary constraints, far too many running at deficits most years, being able to appropriately find quality employees and then compensate them, is one of the larger barriers to moving forward.

However, there are some strategies for staffing a church, or ministry, that have varying results. Though many senior and executive leaders might not think about their staffing approach in terms of models, when considering various churches there does appear to be some common approaches.

Perhaps some common sports metaphors might help us explore three primary means of hiring. In the three major sports leagues there are, essentially, three types of recruiting that are employed.

NFL – The NFL is often about finding the best option for your team at that time. If there is a gap at wide receiver, you find the best possible wide receiver for you team. Sometimes teams are able to have several good options at one position, but high potential back ups usually don’t last long and are moved to other teams. It is often the case that the best potential player for a position doesn’t turn out well and within the year they are needing to be replaced. Since cap room is always an issue for many teams, decisions have to be made about going after high quality (and high cost) players over allowing a good option to stay in place. Highly successful NFL franchises are able to find players for positions at multiple levels and create deep benches. These teams are consistently in the playoffs and don’t have to deal with high levels of drama and off-field issues. One additional action for NFL is the ability to coach up underperforming or underdeveloped players to allow them to gain the skills for use on the field. Well coached teams have higher track records for success across the long run. For the NFL, staffing their teams begins by seeing what the needs are and addressing them with whatever options are available. 

MLB – One of the things baseball has done well for decades is recruiting a host of potential players and allowing them to journey through an intentional process of cultivation and development known as the minor leagues so they can prepare for their time in the game. Players that are recruited out of high school and colleges can expect to spend several years, or more, in the minor league system working on their skills and learning the game. The mentality in many baseball franchises is a long-tail development curve where players are given time to either make the cut and move up, or wash out. Every year 1,500 players are drafted into the MLB, but only 1,200 are in the Majors at any given time. As you can see from this list, only a handful of players have ever gone from draft to a Major League field. For the MLB, staffing their teams is a developmental process that seeks to invest in players to help them find their potential or move on.

NBA – The NBA is all about the star. You can turn your whole franchise around with just the right person regardless of what position they play. While the NBA has recently moved to recognizing a developmental role with their minor league system, a highly talented player with the right skill set can still be moved from college, or another league, and into a starting role for an NBA team from their draft day to the first day of the season. Scouts and team executives are constantly looking for the best franchise options because the addition of one or two star players can move a team from last place to the playoffs, and possibly a title, within a single season. Stars dominate the NBA and each franchise is looking for to find or get a high talent start. Stars seeks validation and expect a starting role. Bench players can add a lot for a team though their contributions will be muted due to the substantial lack of playing team between stars and bench players. For the NBA, staffing their teams is a process that seeks to find high caliber players and move them into roles that will immediately help the team.

In our churches and ministry organizations we can see three different staffing models play out. Granted, for far too many churches there is no comprehensive staffing strategy or solution for identifying and hiring talent. Honestly, most organizations depend on a NFL style system while hoping to move into a NBA method. The costs, both in financial and human resource capital, of the MLB system can sometimes be prohibitive for its implementation in many churches. However, for larger ministries that adopt a residency model or higher level internship program, the MLB style staffing solution can provide tremendous outcomes.

Any of the models allows for a grassroots development of members of the church or ministry to be identified, coached up, and put into ministry roles. This can have differing results. You can sometimes find a high quality player in the middle of your congregation, but you can also find individuals who never reach their potential for any number of reasons.

As we consider what it takes to effectively staff any organization, the leadership will set the tone and direction. If the leadership believes that a new star will help raise the visibility of their overall ministry, or just a certain area, then they should go out and find someone who can do just that while making room for proper validation in compensation and platform time. However, if resources are limited being able to find and raise up members through a development and coaching process can be helpful.

While most churches and ministries still use a scattershot approach to staffing where they post a job and then sort through the resumes for qualified candidates, some have moved to using high quality staffing agencies to identify and place talent according to their talent. These search firms are staffed with people who understand the challenges and opportunities of ministry, can quickly evaluate the needs of a church along with potential candidates, and have a wide net which identifies great talent that ministry leaders might never hear of or personally encounter. Several of the larger church staffing firms who do well in finding candidates include: The Shepherd Staff, Vanderbloemen Group, Minister Search, and the Slingshot Group.

How you go about staffing your ministry will has a major impact on so much of the growth and sustainability of your ministry. Having a plan in place and working that plan depends on the foresight and vision of the leadership.

How have you seen staffing strategies work, or not work, in churches? What are some examples you would use in staffing? How is this model helpful? How can it be improved?

Jul 2013