Thursday, August 30, 2012

Community - What the American Church Should Do

          Relationships in our digital age are difficult to navigate. The technology is easy. We can screen friends, callers, and chose followers at a click of a button. It is intimacy that is elusive. Our culture has lost a sense of hospitality, trading it for home theaters and Netflix subscriptions. Reasons to leave home are in decline. Front porches have vanished. If people allowed their dogs to crap in the kitchen, we would never see our neighbors.
And yet, hidden behind our security systems and flat screens is a God-given need to connect with others. We are created for relationship. “Male and female he created them… It is not good for man to be alone… Husband and wife…begat…begat…begat…” So goes the story of Genesis: God created us for community.
Times of gathering must go beyond Sunday morning. We may not meet “daily” for bread-breaking and  the apostles teaching like Acts describes, but there are changes the church can make in the 21st century to reclaim community. The following ideas scratch the surface.
1.      Movie Clubs: People love film. Some prefer a certain genre or director; others like particular actors or eras of film. Regardless of the content and style, movies should be leveraged for shared experience and rich dialogue. On several occasions I’ve participated in movie groups. They never last too long—the guy who picks the foreign film always kills it—but they give believers an opportunity to discuss their Christian worldview, eat popcorn, and share an experience they would otherwise engage in the privacy of their own home.
2.      Pseudo-Sports Outings: Liz and I organized a Bocce Ball tournament when we lived in Phoenix. A significant portion of our church joined. We spent the entire day throwing balls around and mocking one another. I recall several meaningful discussions in between rounds. In a more recent season, Corn Hole became the flavor of the month. We found an old trophy from Goodwill that we awarded at the annual Thanksgiving bout. The pseudo-sport itself doesn’t matter (e.g., ping pong, disc golf, Risk); extended time together is important.
3.      Table Fellowship: Family meals have disappeared. Soccer schedules and band practices have robbed families (who’ve acquiesced). Churches play a part, too, offering programs and holding meetings five nights out of the week. One of the most simple and intimate ways to create community is to invite others to the dinner table. We’ve also had friends join us for Saturday morning pancakes. You cannot help but feel intimate with others when you’re all in your pajamas. Not only does table fellowship require people to open their home, share their refrigerator, and dirty their dishes, it also reflects the heart of Jesus.
4.      Prayer and Accountability Partners: As effective as small groups and shared events can be, there is no replacement for regular accountability. The frequency depends on the relationship. Weekly meetings may feel overwhelming; monthly meetings, too sparse. Most people benefit from guidance—a Bible reading plan and set of standard questions benefit members as long as they do not become a form of legalism. As mentioned before, accountability groups suffer when the members don’t recognize their need or show little commitment to the process.
5.      Create Margins in Weekly Gatherings: For a while I attended a church that offered two services. One Sunday I caught sight of the schedule: Every minute was portioned out. When managing crowds and volunteer crews, efficiency is critical. However, people know when they are cogs in a machine, ushered in and out for maximum seating capacity. Community does not flourish in the sitting position; it happens in aisles and hallways and margins of time when the program ceases and the Spirit flows. The culture we’ve created allows for starting late and going long and mid-service interruptions with roaming microphones and spontaneous prayer. These margins may overcook the casserole left in the oven for Sunday lunch, but they encourage people to interact with one another when they’re sharing space.
6.      Write Letters: Text is too instant. Email is too informal. Social media is too impersonal. Letters are intimate. Every personal, hand-written letter or card is a treasure. Several ladies in our church make their own stationary, giving their correspondence even deeper meaning.

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