Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On community as a congregational value....

"Community" is a great word to use when we're talking about (and encouraging) a group of people who gather on a regular basis to live life "in common," but the thing is: more often than not the only thing that communities have in common these days is a shared set of beliefs/ideas, an internet connection, and maybe an hour and a half of face-time on a Sunday morning.

We've divorced the word from it's geographically bound foundation and inasmuch I believe any attempt to "create" community without addressing the issue of physical/geographical proximity will ultimately fall short.

To really value community we're going to need to start asking people to gather in their own postal code; pick a "small-c" church within walking distance and forget about traveling across town to worship with a bunch of other commuter-christians.

Alternatively, we could take advantage of the fact that most church buildings are attracting people from all over their cities on any given Sunday and usher in a new understanding of the "big c" church.

What would happen if we re-tooled our Sunday mornings to look less like a glorified version of Sunday School and more like a massive family reunion? What if we made them a time of song and food and prayer and celebration and inspiration even moreso a but a time and opportunity to get to know the extended family we've been adopted into.

What if we stopped supporting "regular weekly attendance" and instead encouraged people to get out there and realize the full and glorious scope of what we've gotten ourselves into? Getting lost in the crowd that is ultimately our new family could do a lot for our perspective every once in a while. And I daresay it might even encourage a little unity too!

Further Reading:
Tiny is the new small & Massive is the new big.
Dunbar's Number
Bonhoeffer's "Life Together."
Jesus on the night of his betrayal

Two quick notes to save a slew of possible misunderstandings:
1. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with striving for a deep practice of community - I've just never experienced it more fully than when it was encouraged by clear geographical boundaries.

2. In my "family reunion/no-more-membership" scenario there is the obvious question of who the pastorate are responsible too. My hope would be that our pastors and teachers would take a bit of a "good Samaritan" approach and consider themselves responsible to any and all who come across their path. Should the laity also successfully maintain a tighter focus on their own geographical community it would only be a matter of a few years before a pastor's "flock" became obvious (researchers say it takes a pastor 7 years to build the relationships necessary to be effective in a local church). It used to be called a parish, and I think we can bring that back.

1 comment:

Cory said...


Thanks for the post. Some yummy thoughts there. I've been thinking (briefly I'll admit) about your thoughts over the past few days since I first read the post.

My experience reinforces your comments about the impact of geography on community. I mean take our relationship for example - Corinne and I love you and Hil but there's challenges in maintaining community over distance. Not impossible I'd add, but challenges for sure.

I'm particularly struck with the idea in your post (and disclaimer) that when we take opportunities to gather and get to know each other unity grows. That's kingdom stuff and I gotta tell ya, I get pretty excited about that!