Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Christians Don't Get It

Christians love to talk about community -- about being an "Acts 2 community" or an "intentional community" or a "biblical community" -- but I think that sometimes, many Christians completely miss the point. First off, many Christians look at community as something that they schedule some time for instead of seeing it as a way of life. So they schedule "small group" or "fellowship time," so they can "do" community. This is as ridiculous as scheduling "fun time with my kids." Real "fun time with the kids" happens spontaneously, just becuase we love being in each others' presence. Secondly, I think agressive agendas get in the way of authentic community. Sometimes (dare I say most of the time?) it may be more important just to talk, tell stories, laugh, etc., than to get through a curriculum. In fact this whole super-focused-get-community-done-as-fast-as-possible-so-I-can-get-on-with-my-real-life mentality has led to the need for "group mixers" where we can "get to know each other" in as little time as possible. Is there any other place where people play "mixer games" other than church events? So my point is, lose your agenda, and become a person that's about community -- knowing and being known by another.


Scapegoat said...

AMEN!! But that leaves a problem for those of us in the "business" (& by the business I do mean the industry - as Letterman used to say)of ministry: How do we intentionally move our people into unintentional community??

The more I do this Small Groups Pastor thing the more problem I have with Small Groups Programs. You're absolutely right - you can't program authentic relationships.

This has been a nagging problem for me at every church I've been a part of. There are pockets here & there of "real" community in formal small groups, but I'd honestly have to say they are few. And the rest of us are just having meetings. Which, sadly, seems to be just fine with a lot of people.

Maybe it's just me. There sure are lots of big churches with a ton of groups, & loads of books telling me how to run a successful program. Why does Willow keep changing strategies then? Do they just keep finding better ones? Perhaps the next best system isn't the answer?

How do we systematize something organic? Should we?

Does your Small Groups Dept. (oxymoron?) wrestle with any of this stuff? Or should I just shut up, drink more coffee & be glad I'm not a logger or something?

ckd said...

I think that it starts with the church giving people permission (and space) to not be agenda-driven -- and we're going to have to stay "on-message for a generation or more!

In response to your question about small groups in our church, I'm calling out JD to respond!

JD said...

So I've been called out ... makes me think of a bad Clint Eastwood western (what am I saying? He rocks)! Some initial thoughts:

The 1st challenge for our church (and I'm sure in others) is pace of life. People have lost the "front porch" mentality that ruled in our country years ago, we've lost knowing our neighbors, and we seem to feel that if we're not busy (read - doing something productive) then somethings wrong. The 2nd Challenge is how discipleship is viewed and what churches try to acomplish through small groups. There are others but listing them all here might shut downt the web.

I agree with your frustrations - I have them myself. I think one of the reasons for all the switches in places like Willow is that they are finding that programs don't work, simple is better, and authenticity (a much over-used word) happens when people have time to hang out without an agenda. As I was telling Charlie this morning - we in the church have lost the "gift of party" and desparately need to get it back.

We are in the midst of a small group turn around here that will probably take a few years, we have no real answers but we are doing a couple things that seem to be helping move toward a solution.
1. We are grouping people geographically (just started this,it's not formally approved, and the jury is still out) but we are trying to shorten the "commute" to a group so that group life actually has a life component. It's has to be more than a 2 hour meeting every other week (which is the norm here)
2. All groups start out as temporary groups - gives people the ability to bail on groups that only can be described as "not quite right". We've all had those experiences - and shudder when we remember them.
3. We talk of group life in our leadership training as family not meeting. It will take a long time to change the dynamic here but we are starting the change.
4. Senior leadership is engaging in figuring out how people really grow spiritually and what role community plays in that ... that will ultimately determine where we go.

Not real profound stuff, but there are too many thoughts in my head to stick on the web.

Bottom line is the church in America needs a radical shift in how it defines what it means to be a Christ follower and what it means to know and be known. I agree with Charlie it will take massive focus for a generation.

randy said...

okay... just have to comment.

great to hear you guys talking about this stuff. i'm happy to have fellow mud-wrestlers.

i'm sure you've all read joseph myer's "search to belong" book. we're leaning on it and the study of proxemics to chart a new course for church... and relationships / formation at all levels.

you can reference my april 13th blog for more on this subject from me...

i called it...
abdication... immaturity... incompetence... self-obsession?

anyway... for what it's worth... seems like you're asking the right questions.

JGanschow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JGanschow said...

Charles in Charge,
I recently was in a Nexus beta group, testing the waters. The intentions were good, but it just didn’t work out. I believe this was because it was too structured. We followed a book about relationships and discussed a chapter each week. I acknowledge that the purpose was to have some common ground for a group of strangers to connect on, but it honestly felt like a group support meeting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, going out together with a larger group after Saturday night service to either someone’s house or a restaurant provided a venue where everyone was free to bond on a deeper level with others without restraint. These weekend activities have now bled into gatherings during the week, either hanging out, helping each other move, work on cars, getting together for meals, etc. What I’m trying to say is that when the “religious” aspect of community is limited the love in relationships has room to blossom.

Chris said...


I was going to post some of my thoughts, but I cannot really put it much better or differently than you did!


mitchell said...

great topic charlie. why is it that christianity has to market friends? why is community synonymous with accountability group. I think non-christians have group mixers, I heard one call it a party - they looked like they were having fun.

what would it look like if we introduced alcohol back into church? what if there was a pub instead of a welcome desk? we might have to change our service times because I think 7:30 is too early for guinness (maybe a nice mimosa).

I don’t think people are found over a hearty discussion of Lamentations. deep down do we really know what draws people together, but shy away because it isn't spiritual enough?

Beth B. said...

since my life group has split into 2 smaller more intimate groups we have grown so much closer! well at least the group i am in has, i am not sure about the other. the dynamics of a smaller group are part of it. the main reasons are, we meet in someone's home (mine) and have dinner together. we take the time to sit and talk about our week and what is happening in our lives. before we met at the church, which is a horrible place to have deep conversations (too open and vulnerable) and the depth we have achieved in one month hadn't been achieved in over a year. before everyone was anxious to get out of there after an hour and a half at the most. now we sit talk and study the psalms for 3 hours! i agree that the problem is that we have gotten to structured; has to be one main leader, has to be a book we go through and we must finish it. we share "leadership" duties by taking turns digging deaper into one of the psalms we have been reading that week. basically we are "doing life together" we aren't meeting for a bible study and passing along superficial prayer requests about someone we know. which is the kind of small group ideals i grew up with. we are meeting to discuss what is going on in our lives, and what God is doing with and in our lives. we are sharing heartfelt and scary prayer requests about ourselves and those we love. i love my life group! it is one of the highlights of my week. so essential for my spiritual walk! i think for people in my age group (mid to upper 20s) we need to have that type of "family" community. especially if you are single.

JD said...

Great post! My dream is that all "groups" would move toward this type of real life connection that spurs one another towards love and good deeds. Very Cool. Everyone needs this, not just your age group.

ckd said...

Great comments everyone!

the whole idea of "marketing friends," grabs me.

It seems people come into my ministry and expect that I'm going to find them friends -- which I think is a little crazy. Now hopefully, the church is a place to meet people and hopefully the teaching is helping you be a better friend/neighbor/person, but I don't think it's my job to make sure everyone has a buddy!

Beth B said...

thanks JD!