Extractionalism

Extractionalism is moving new Christians out of relationship with non-believers in the culture in order to foster new relationships almost exclusively within the church.

If you don’t have friends outside the church, there’s something wrong with you—and your version of Christianity. (Clegg and Bird, Lost in America, p 133)

Donald McGavran in his book The Bridges of God (p 10-11) describes the problem of extracting believers out of their family and society relationships. “The first thing not to do is to snatch individuals out of it into a different society.” He suggests that a “Christward movement within a people” can be “defeated by extracting the new Christians from their society.” McGavran quotes J.W. Picket in his important study Christ’s Way to India’s Heart:

The process of extracting individuals from their setting in Hindu or Moslem communities does not build a Church. On the contrary it rouses antagonism against Christianity and builds barriers against the spread of the Gospel It has sacrificed much of the convert’s evangelistic possibilities by separating him from his People.

Extractionalism is an obstacle to missional Christianity. “By the time newcomers have scaled the fences built around the church, they are so socialized as churchgoers that they are not likely to be able to maintain their connection with the social groups they came from.” (Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p 208)

Extractionalism is especially a problem for pastors and church leaders.

Ironically, full-time clergy in the traditional-attractional churches often find themselves so run off their feet with the busyness of serving on various committees, attending myriad meetings, and running worship services, that they have very few social contacts with unbelievers. We think this is one of the great blights of the institutional church; it covertly withdraws its clergy from casual, social contact with the neighborhood communities. (Shaping of Things to Come, p 58-59)

Dan Kimball observes, “It’s too easy for pastors and church leaders to get caught up in the busyness of church activities with Christians and to subtly lose touch with the mindset of emerging generations.” (They Like Jesus and Not the Church, p 13)

Additionally, pastors often feel they need to stay in the office all week to be available for church members. Instead of relating to lost people in the culture around them, pastors focus on preparing sermons and caring for their flock.

Frost and Hirsch emphasize the need “for the gospel to be incarnated into the thousands of sub-cultures that now exist in our complex, postmodern, tribalized, Western contexts It is now critical for the sake of the gospel itself that these people experience salvation in a way that does not dislocate them from their organic groups but rather allows them to encounter Jesus in a way that is seamlessly connected with life as they have come to understand it through their own histories and experiences.” (Shaping of Things to Come, p 40)

The problem is that extracting believers from relationships within the culture has a negative impact on both believers and unbelievers. Christians fail to have any spiritual impact or participation in extending the kingdom. Non-Christians go to hell. Neither of these things is good—especially the part about going to hell.

In American churches, “far too many Christians have few if any lost friends. They have lots of lost acquaintances, but not many lost friends.” (Aubry Malphurs,Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, p 175)

Too few relationships with unbelievers can be a significant obstacle to fulfilling the mission of Jesus.

The longer a person attends church, the fewer evangelistic discussions they engage in with family and friends. Fewer presentations of the life-changing plan of salvation are given, and fewer invitations to events that attractively present the message of Christ are offered, mostly because Christ-followers have fewer friends outside the faith to whom to offer them. (Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room, p 61)

Christians have been transformed to have a transforming influence in the world. God has designed the church for this purpose. “Corporately the collection of transformed individuals creates a transformed culture.” (Charles Van Engen, God’s Missionary People, p 53)

There is a desperate need for transformation of both individuals and communities. Yet if Christians keep building friendships with Christians within the walls of a local church, the transforming influence of believers will be wasted.

Action Plan:

  1. Evaluate your own relationships with unbelievers. Who would consider you a friend? When was the last time you shared a meal with unbelievers in your home?
  2. What activities do you enjoy doing that you could choose to do with unbelievers on a regular basis?
  3. What will you stop doing so you can start spending time cultivating relationships with unbelievers?
  4. Who do you know that isn’t a Christian? When will you share a meal with them?
  5. Who will consistently ask you when you’ve spent time socially with unbelievers?

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Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
3 replies
  1. ecclesilastic
    ecclesilastic says:

    Nice post. I’m a little put off by the tactical approach to interacting with unbelievers that your action plan questions suggest at the end. I understand the need for being intentional (esp. for church staff), but it feels a bit contrived to ‘target’ people for relationships. I think if we would spend more time being active at work and in our communities, then relationships would naturally occur with people not associated with the church. After that, I should reiterate… Nice post!

  2. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    I get what your saying. I’ve always agreed that you can reach people you can relate to. Just find those unbelievers you can relate to and start relating!

    I think it’s hard to talk about intentionality for church staff without there being some sense of actually getting out of the office and working at cultivating relationships. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

    I have interviewed and assessed a lot of potential church planters and this is the number one thing that they struggle with. Most of them don’t have any relationships with non-Christians. While they can relate to them if they come to church – they don’t relate to them or hang out with them on their “turf.”

    This has been something that I’ve struggled with, too. It’s easier to talk about than to actually do it.

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