Central Gathering: Incarnational instead of Attractional

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 12, 2005

Right now at Missio Dei, we’re in a tough spot.  The whole situation with Augsburg (read previous post) derailed our plans.  We were getting read to start a more attractive Sunday meeting on an attractive campus.  We’d put an ad in the paper.  All of these things lend themselves towards being attractional rather than incarnational.  This felt like a good and necessary step at the time, because we have been really small and struggling as a church.  We lacked momentum and most of our church hadn’t really made connections on the West Bank (read more about my mindset here).  It seemed like the only viable way forward.

Last night for our prayer meeting, we prayed and then discussed the situation.  I think I frustrated a few people when I invalidated the path we’ve been on in recent months and expressed my desire to be an incarnational church and not try to rely upon attractional methods to help us grow. 

I wish I could go back into a time machine and start over.  I’d get a job down here and find a few friends to be incarnational with me.  And after a while, we would have developed an ecclesiological way forward out of our experiences.  If you’ve read my recent posts on incarnational practices, you could see a basic map about how I would have started out. 

But we didn’t start out that way.  We started with some unnatural hybrid in embryonic form.  We had the values and heart of an incarnational church, but were starting with attractional methodolgy.  And because we weren’t passionate about being attractional, we ended up sucking at taht too.  I guess I thought if we got a solid enough group of people, we could switch to being really incarnational and things would be great.  Wrong. 

Our central gatherings have always had low attendance.  We’ve never felt like they served a real purpose.  We have our house churches, which are better attended.  In the past, I’ve resisted the idea of going to a monthly central gathering, as many house church networks do…but maybe its time.  I guess I’ve hoped that the central Gathering could give momentum and a missional cohesion.  But it has done just the opposite, I fear. 

And so about a dozen of us gathered for prayer at Augsburg–about half of our number.  There wasn’t consensus on how we ought to proceed, but a number of people said something to this effect: "If we’re going to be an incarnational church (and not attractional), then how should we do our central gatherings?  Should we even have them at all?"

And that is the question I pose to you, blog friends.  Should we cut back on the frequency of our Central Gatherings? What do we do to our Central Gatherings to foster our incarnational focus?  I’ve got some of my own ideas, but I’d like to hear yours first.

(This chart from TallSkinnyKiwi may help your thinking).

for further reading . . .

  • None Found


10 Responses to “Central Gathering: Incarnational instead of Attractional”

  1. andrew on September 12th, 2005 11:51 am

    hey - thanks for the link

    the chart was made by someone else - i just reposted it with a link

    peace and joy on all there

  2. Richard on September 12th, 2005 6:53 pm

    Sorry, I don’t have much time to write or to read to far back into your bloggs, so this may not be helpful.

    However, it appears that you have a group of similarly minded believers, and you are trying to work together on a project. But your connection with these people is mainly based on the projects you set up. May be its time to go your separate ways and each of you engage your own lives, keeping in contact with one another for encouragement only.

    Each person can then engage in the sphere that they find themselves in (Business, arts, professions, sport - whatever the passion becomes). Relationships will then develop in these ‘normal life’ arenas without having to formulate an artificial gathering in order to come together.

    I hope this makes some sense?!

  3. Van S on September 12th, 2005 9:06 pm


    There is more to it than that. We’re about a one-year old church plant with more in common than a shared project. Gatherings are always formulated, from teh begining of the Church, but the trick is to not have them be artificial. A Gathering should be a natural expession of who people are.

  4. Richard on September 12th, 2005 11:19 pm

    I think what you’re doing is inspiring and you’re on an exciting journey. You’re obviously making a lot of difference to a lot of lives. I was selfishly dissapointed when you stopped blogging. I don’t normally post anything, but do get a lot of encouragement from your writing.

    I agree with what you’re saying and there is a continual tension in the relationship of the formulated gathering and the natural expression. The two have to coexist.

    I don’t have any answers, I’m confused enough. But my personal journey (which is right for me only), is exploring this relationship to the extreme of the natural expression.

    For example, I love football. So I belong to a club and pour in some effort here at the weekends. I have since found other Christians who are part of the same club. We enjoy serving / ministering alongside non-Christians and are hoping to inflence them for Christ (just by being present) at the same time as having fellowship with each other.

    I also have a building business with a friend I met at Bible college. We fellowship together and prayer together and see the business as a ministry also.

    I didn’t join a team or start a business to be relevant. I do it because I love it and things have just happened.

    My problem is how much structure and leadership to provide in these two expressions. I always feel I could achieve more. The lack of ownership makes it all seem less tangible, so I don’t know if I’m wasting my time or if I’m leaving the leadership and ownership to Him?! I’m really not sure at this stage.


  5. Charlie Wear on September 13th, 2005 9:29 am

    So Mark,
    What is God doing in your area? Where are the people gathering? Who needs to hear to the Story of Jesus? Who does God want you to serve? Have the whispers begun?

  6. Van S on September 13th, 2005 3:23 pm


    The problem for me wasn’t that God wasn’t whispering…but that I wasn’t able to hear. As much as I’ve prided myself on being a good ecclesiological thinker, I convinced myself that the picture God had given to me of Christian community living incarnationally couldn’t happen unless I “primed the pump” a bit first–by using conventional methods. By the time I realized the mistake, some of the crust had begun to settle in. This Augsburg thing was one last big effort to somehow arrive at incarnational ministry using non-incarnational means. I guess I’ve been afraid of what it would mean to let go of all the safety of convention–it would mean that our numbers might thin and I’d probably have to get another job. But now I don’t care about that. I just want to do the simple thing: meet people where they are at and share the goodness of God with them. There are many many opportunities to do just that on the West Bank.

  7. JVD on September 13th, 2005 8:18 pm

    Mark -

    Forget writing that guy who blew you off, take it to Augsburg’s President.


  8. Charlie Wear on September 14th, 2005 2:06 am

    Sounds like you are on the right track…the Central Gathering thing is overrated…and you can become a slave to it pretty quickly…I’ll be that new job will bring you into contact with a lot of people who need to know Jesus…

  9. Michelle on September 14th, 2005 4:00 pm


    I think hindsight is always 20/20, but its a praise that you have a core group that shares the same vision. Its challenging to get even two christians to agree let alone 5 or more.
    I don’t think its the end of the world if you only have a large gathering once a month. Maybe you could just put it out there that gatherings will be held weekly or biweekly for anyone intrested in developing the incarnational side of Dei. Something more low key and intimate.
    It doesn’t seem like you guys lack ideas of where you want to be. Its more like how to get there.
    I think Chris told me that failure or more mistakes were the best learing tools in all of this.
    Oh and welcome back too!!

  10. Adam Young on September 19th, 2005 10:58 pm

    Hey, I really like what I see here on your blog.

    I was the original “artist” (I use that term loosely) of the diagrams, and I’m interested in anyone’s comments as to how to turn the missional foundation model from theory to practice. I think the incarnational practices you share are a good start.



Got something to say?