From “No Home Like Place,” unpublished manuscript.

“Churches which are embedded in and committed to a place can engage imaginatively in common life in ways that acknowledge the sacred. Eric Jacobsen helps us understand this role with his distinction between embedded churches and insular churches, a frame which helps us move beyond the rigid dichotomy of incarnational and attractional. Churches built prior to WWII are embedded because “they facilitate direct connections between the interior space of the church building and the public space of the wider society.” Often these buildings extend to the sidewalk and have little or no parking lot.

“Insular churches, on the other hand, were built after WWII and are insulated from direct contact with the community that surrounds them. These buildings tend to include a large parking lot that acts as a buffer between the space inside and the world outside, often sitting on lots that exceed five acres in size. These buildings, oriented to commuter traffic, are rarely placed in the sense we have been developing in this book…”

Not long after I wrote this I rediscovered Drew Goodmanson’s “triperspectival ecclesiology.” I haven’t been very happy with the typology of attractional versus incarnational churches. In Drew’s work, which involved the work of others in the Kaleo and Soma missional communities, Drew saw that the inward and exaltational mode of churches that build their center around gatherings is not a bad thing in itself — only bad when it neglects the outward and incarnational mode. (This is still an over simplification). We still need to find a way to engage the rhythms of Godself — all is love, moving inward in community and outward in mission. Every gathering has its purpose, and we need to understand how those fit into the larger picture of missio Dei.

So picture this on a linear scale. Missional communities are those that find a way to live most of the time in the tension between inward and outward, between attractional and incarnation, gathering and dispersion. They live in the rhythm. (The image below is modified from the original).
Another way of framing this is the distinction between an inward pietism and an outward activism. It’s true that individually we have tendencies one way or the other. But a community has to find ways to embrace both types, and encourage individuals to grow toward their less comfortable pole. Theologically this is the tension between transcendence and immanence. Yes, God is transcendent and wholly other. But he empties himself, and radically enters our world. The Eucharist is universally enacted, and is always local, and always connects us to the whole body – true catholocity. To partner with God in missio Dei is to live in this tension of transcendence and immanence, the embodiment of the Eucharist, bread and wine are taken in the world but lift the world to God.

3 Comments on attractional or incarnational?

  1. Brandon Rhodes says:

    Amen. More and more I’m finding the Eucharist to be central to the Missional vision. It summons us weekly toward incarnation, and disillusions us of the notion that we can reinvent the church (hat tip to Hauerwas). What mystery!

  2. len says:

    Brandon, funny the roads we travel to arrive at some kinds of clarity isn’t it?

  3. Matt Stone says:

    And yet, theologically kenosis can be associated more transcendent spirituality / mysticism.