Most North American churches do an incredible job of reaching a people group with some basis of Christian foundation. Unbelievers still go to church in many places in our country. They are attracted by the worship, teaching, and the people. Members of churches are able to invite people to church while sharing the gospel with them or can even leave it up to the church to share the gospel with their friends. Small group leaders often have members assigned to them because people are coming into the church hungry for community. This is all so great! What a blessing to live in a time and in a country like this that allows the freedom for us to be able to do ministry in this way alongside an attractional church.
But overseas ministry is so much different. There is no Christian spiritual foundation amongst the people we are trying to reach. In fact often the false religions of their nation and peoples have to be deconstructed before the basic knowledge of Christianity is able to be shared. There is no fun and exciting church service to go to with hundreds of people, great worship, (and of course smoke and lasers!) The teaching isn’t from a pastor that has gone through seminary and can spend twenty hours preparing his sermon to perfection. Not to mention the governments of many of these countries are oppressive towards Christianity and thus we have to think small not big in our idea of church cross-culturally.
“We need to create contexts by which our potential missionaries can learn and practice evangelistic activity that is done in the absence of the attractional church.”
Without the crutch of an attractional model, many of those who go overseas as missionaries are unable to execute the job description we have put before them: 1) win the lost in areas of low access to the gospel; 2) disciple believers to become followers of Christ and leaders in the church; and 3) catalyze a church plant by empowering national leaders to lead the church.
Because of this, as missions leaders, we need to create contexts by which our potential missionaries can learn and practice evangelistic activity that is done in the absence of the attractional church. Some of the key principles to accomplish this include:
Cross-cultural Interpersonal Evangelism: Sharing the gospel in an attractive way that speaks to their culture in an individual or small group setting.
Obedience-based Discipleship: Disciple-making that is done in a group format that is simple, reproducible, and accountable. Whatever is caught is taught and passed on to friends whether they are believers or unbelievers.
Small Church with Multiplying Vision: Churches are self-identified by newer believers with a vision to see their church grow in numbers and in depth in order to reproduce and create more opportunities for the gospel to be shared and disciples made.
Knowing that this is the type of work our missionaries are going to be a part of cross-culturally, we need to consider in our attractional churches how to teach our potential goers to do this type of ministry with the absence of the attractional model. The good news is, we can practice all of these principles even in our attractional churches.
“Doing interpersonal evangelism, obedience-based discipleship, and small groups with a multiplying vision can all be done in the context of any attractional church.”
Doing interpersonal evangelism, obedience-based discipleship, and small groups with a multiplying vision can all be done in the context of any attractional church. The key is teaching our future missionaries the principles of multiplicative discipleship and how to see the attractional church they are a part of as a partner, not a crutch to lean on.
Those living out the multiplicative discipleship principles in an attractional church setting can bring the best of the both church models together while preparing for life overseas. Great worship, teaching and quality of the attractional church, married with principles of interpersonal evangelism, obedience based discipleship, and multiplying small groups will make great disciples in our churches, will influence the discipleship model of the church, and will train those considering doing cross-cultural missionary work.
Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.