The Legalism Behind the Attractional Church Method

To get us started let’s determine what we mean when we say a church is attractional? Jared Wilson defines an attractional church as a “church ministry whose primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing.”1 This does not mean that it is or isn’t contemporary or even that is or isn’t a megachurch, but that the church embraces a “seeker sensitive” mentality that is careful not to offend, proclaims general morality, and does not center around Gospel preaching that declares the historical atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 15:1-11)

The modern seeker sensitive movement grew, in part, as a reaction against strong legalistic preaching that also was not Gospel focused and heavily stressed the don’ts of Christianity.2 (many of those don’ts themselves were not always Biblical, cf. I Timothy 4:1-5) Yet, as is far too often the case, the overreaction has caused a hyper focus on the do’s of Christianity which has resulted in a lot of moralistic preaching that is not first, and most importantly, rooted in the Gospel. This type of preaching is unfortunately, and ironically, a different form of legalism.3

You can go to any religious worldview and find this kind of morality focused teaching, it is only in true Christianity that the power of God is revealed in the Gospel of salvation by grace alone. (Romans 1:16, Romans 3:23-25) This does not mean that Christians should not preach morality and good behavior, for grace properly understood leads away from immoral behavior. (Romans 6:14, Titus 2:11-12) However, it must be remembered that Christianity teaches that, in relation to God, man is morally dead and is in desperate need of a supernatural act of grace and mercy to bring to life what is buried in the grave. No amount of moral teaching can lead one to salvation and instead, if done without a focus on the Gospel, will lead to confusion and false confidence.

Many attractional church methods are a form of legalism, because they fail to teach the moral inability of the individual and stress the moral efforts instead.  As Wilson states, “Pragmatic methodology is legalistic because legalism is what happens when you disconnect the Christian’s “do” from Christ’s “done” in the gospel.4 At the end of the day all this does is “create tidy unbelievers.”5

Unless people are first taught that they are incapable of fulfilling God’s moral demands they will never understand Christianity. Unless preachers proclaim that it is in and through Jesus Christ alone that sinners are found to be righteous before God, people may end up checking a box that says they are Christians but they will not receive the new life that is given by God as they repent of their sins, even repenting of their best moral efforts, and turn completely and fully to Christ Jesus. (II Corinthians 5:17-21) Let this be the motivation for morality. Let this win hearts. Let this be preached from every Christian pew. Let us believe that it is not a paradigm, it is not a strategy, and it is certainly not a seeker sensitive attitude that expands the kingdom of God, but that it is the power of God, the work of the Spirit and the glory of the Gospel as it is proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ that draws people to true Christianity.



  1. The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace, Jared Wilson, Chapter 1: The Dilemma, 25 (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2019)
  2. Ibid. 27
  3. Ibid. 27
  4. Ibid. 28
  5. Ibid. 29

Photo by Darren Chan on Unsplash

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