The Distractional Church
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
March 2, 2010 - For quite some time now, many evangelical churches have been caught up in the furor of self-consciously identifying themselves as “missional” or “incarnational.” The latter is frequently cited as an aspect of the former. What is an “incarnational” church? At the risk of oversimplification, an incarnational church is a body of believers of committed to going. Like Christ himself, the incarnational church aims to go to be with and among the people, especially those who need the Gospel. The emphasis on going and being among people stands opposed to the outmoded “attractional” model of chuch which, rather than going, merely invites people to come and see.
The irony is that increasingly, people aren’t anywhere – at least not any where in particular. Thanks to the digital revolution, most of our lives do not take place in . . . well . . . a place. So if there’s nowhere to go to be with and among the people because the people aren’t actually anywhere, then incarnational churches must go where people aren’t. Where aren’t they? The internet, of course! Thus, it is no surprise that this is where so many incarnational or missional churches are.
The presence (if one may really call it that) of so many churches on the internet who highlight their incarnational philosophy of ministry is odd. It is odd because the Incarnation of the second person of the trinity in Jesus of Nazareth should draw our attention to the limitations of human embodiment. If incarnational churches spent their energy ministering in a way that truly respected the limitations of human embodiment, one would be surprised even to learn of their existence as such unless one happened to be in the neighborhood. Perhaps the ubiquity of incarnational churches on the web is an indication that the incarnational or missional moniker is ironically serving an attractive function. It’s a way of inviting people with and among whom one is not actually living to “Come and see us!”