by Peyton G. Craighill
In America, congregations generally assume that their success is measured in terms of how many members they are able to attract. They also assume that their power to attract and hold members depends on their ability to produce programs that meet the spiritual and social needs of their members. The most successful congregations are those with the most attractive power. The problem with these assumptions is that they ignore why God created – and continues to create – congregations.
The Church came into being when God sent his Son into the world to live, die, and rise again for that world, and to commission his followers to spread the Good News of God’s love and justice through word and action into all that world. The Church exists, not primarily, to attract people into congregations, but to send people out to share with Christ in his mission in all areas of daily life. When we were baptized into Christ, he commissioned us all of us to participate with him in his mission, Monday through Sunday.
The paradigm shift from an attractional to a sending model of congregational ministry calls for a major reconsideration of every aspect of church life – worship, formation, community, and service. Mission is no longer on the periphery of church life. The mission of Christ is why the Church and all of its congregations exists! Parish programs need to be rethought in terms, not only of the corporate life of congregations, but also in terms of how they inspire, guide, and support each member in her or his missions in all areas of daily life – home, work, leisure, community, church, and the wider world.
In regard to the missional church movement in the Episcopal Church, what sets our approach apart from other Churches is our emphasis on baptism and the baptismal covenant. As Christ’s mission began with his baptism, so too our mission, shared with Christ, begins with our baptism. In particular, the nine commitments (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 292-4) we make in our Baptismal Covenant provide us with invaluable inspiration and guidance for our missions in and through Christ.
We recognize of course, that, in mission-oriented congregations, attraction remains an important part of our ministry. Unless congregations attract members in, there will be no missionaries to send out. But attraction is subordinated to sending. Indeed, the best way to attract people into congregations is when those congregations inspire and support all their members to live out their faith in their everyday lives.