Excerpts from a Conversation with Allan Hirsch
Up to this point, church has been a means to an end. We've operated from what I call a Christendom paradigm or an institutional paradigm. Ever since Constantine, who gave us the institution, we've seldom been able to see the church outside of that paradigm. And so you have the high church going into Protestant churches and traditional into contemporary, but all of them are really variations of the same paradigm of church, the institutional paradigm. I'm not saying it's all wrong. But if we think that simply rejiggering the same old paradigm is going to solve all our problems, I think we're going to be very disappointed. We need to change the paradigm. We need to fundamentally shift the way we think about church.
The contemporary church is an example of the institutional paradigm. Basically, it's still an attractional model, which only works with people who are like us. The people who come to our churches speak the same language, follow the same socio-economic route-basically, they are like us. Their normal form of engagement is attraction.
The attractional model can work well when the people we're trying to attract are within the cultural distance of the church. But when everyone is moving further away from us culturally, it's not going to work. Because what you do then is extract people from their environment and then inculcate them into a different environment. If we assume that people have got to come to us on our cultural turf in order to hear the gospel, we remove them from the natural cultural environment from which they were extracted.
Most of our churches are aiming at the 40 percent of the population that's within the cultural distance of the church. And attractional churches will work for 40 percent of the population of America. (That doesn't mean attendance-wise; it simply means that 40 percent would consider that kind of church because it's like them.)
The problem is that 60 percent of the population is left out of the equation. And increasingly, that 60 percent is more complex and more diverse. Therefore, when you do pull them into an attactional church, you socialize them out of their context. As a missional church, we need to go to them.