Recently I have been thinking about the gulf between the desire to be a part of a spiritual family and actually taking steps to become part of one. In our culture it is still, by and large, easier to drift along as a “church-less” Christian; recycling arguments to yourself that you will try to find something soon or finally start that group in your house you’ve been talking about forever. Or, it is easier to hide in whatever is the largest local mega-something, sneering at the pastor’s sermons, rolling your eyes at the hipster worship leader, and telling yourself that you need to be there “for the kids.”
What is frustrating from my perspective is that I know the gulf is not as wide as it seems. But from the other side it seems as impassible as the Grand Canyon. There simply is no clear path for a follower of Jesus who is longing for meaningful community to cross the gulf, to be challenged as a disciple, and to experience the kind of belonging that is so deeply craved yet feels so elusive. Up until now, I have mostly attempted to coax into our community those with the desire to cross the gulf on their own. But isn’t that just another form of the attractional mindset?* Instead of going out and acting as a guide and encourager, I have been asking them to come over to something already established yet unfamiliar.
So this leads me to wonder what it might look like to become a guide and encourager to those searching for authentic Christian community. First, and perhaps most obvious, it would be to offer support to anyone who is serious about starting a simple church in their home, place of business, or school. I’ve had many conversations with people who were on the cusp of starting something, but there seems to be a pervasive distrust of anyone or anything that might co-opt or control a new group. There is also a lack of clarity and confidence that restricts the person from being willing to experiment and risk. This, coupled with the fear that the group may quickly grow and get out of hand, often leaves the person stuck from moving forward. Let me state this very clearly – I would gladly help anyone walk through these landmines and start a new faith community with no strings attached. We have an established network of simple churches and a group of leaders that love each other and are growing together. We would love to include others into that circle.
Another opportunity may be to use the “person of peace” strategy to look for signs of life in our neighborhoods, places of work, schools, and among our social networks. Maybe there is someone who will allow us to walk with them and have an Emmaus Road experience; to allow our peace to rest with them. Maybe this doesn’t end up looking like a simple church or anything of substance. It could be just an opportunity to help someone find healing and eventually enter into meaningful community somewhere.
There are more ideas, but I think my point has been made. With a bit of intentionality, can we move from an attractional mindset to cultivating new expressions of spiritual family? I’m excited for the possibilities in 2012!
*Props to my friend, neighbor, and local co-conspirator, Mike Bourque, for the engaging conversation along these lines which gave language to this idea. I use the word “attractional” specifically to draw comparison to the dominate strategy of church growth – create a better Sunday morning service to attract new members. In our case, it is attempting to attract people to a living, breathing community by inviting them to come to one of our gatherings. In both cases, we are asking people to enter on our terms and on our turf. Our way may cost less money and require less organization, but the commitment level is much higher.