“‘Doing Church’ like everyone else…”

Cory‘s post over at Jesus Manifesto is something that I sympathize so deeply with. He writes of a woman who visited during the Sunday service looked through the bulletin and left before the end of the first song. Her reasoning was that there was not enough of a children’s ministry for her young child. With a church of 70 or so folks this is a hard jab that gets felt pretty strongly. The dilemma is whether we can resist the temptation to sacrifice the subversive and non-centralized call of Jesus and simply give people what they want. Cory writes, “Yet if we would simply capitulate to the consumerist tendencies of the people in our community, we might have more opportunities to introduce them to the world-transforming love of Jesus.”

As I wrestle with accepting having 6 to 10 people at our weekly gathering, people “shopping” gets to be pretty brutal. We had a few when we first got things going that came for a few weeks and then decided we weren’t for them. To have one new face is a rush of encouragement… but to find out later that they want a sweet and hip worship service is rough. It’s like losing 15% of your church. Hah! the joys of being small.

While I don’t want to come across as saying that every other church out there is consumeristic and that there are not many, many exceptions to this ‘doing church.’ There are always exceptions… but I think that is what they are. They are so often isolated units apart from the main system. It is pretty tough to deny that there is a “system” of “church” that doesn’t simply cater to what people want. After all, it is so exciting to see very few empty seats and to have tons of money coming in through the offering plates (or baskets… or funky velvet bags…)

As we face the challenge of facilitating and fertilizing the emerging church of Bend, Oregon, it is so difficult to not buy into the traditional “marks” of success: bodies at a weekly gathering and good “services” to offer. This idea of success is one of the hardest things to get beyond. But to let go of this and consider our success as being connected in more and more transforming relationships in the Bend community is so freeing. Finally, we are released to celebrate, laugh, worship, eat, and converse with whoever finds meaning in everything we are doing in any place we are meeting. We meet people where they are at… give them the freedom and opportunity to go as deep as they want. But, gosh… its difficult… and takes so much time…

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6 thoughts on ““‘Doing Church’ like everyone else…””

  1. Hey Nate,
    Good to hear from you! I definitely wrestled with this even more when we were first starting out. Those days when we had ten people showing up were brutal. Every family that came for a while and left again felt like a personal attack. I’ll be praying for you in these early days of the journey!
    Corey

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  2. Nate, church is so hard to figure out, isn’t it? I think it’s because tension is so uncomfortable, and it’s almost always all about tension. I mean, there are things we’d do in an attempt to make people feel more comfortable with us during a worship service that wouldn’t “sacrifice the call of Jesus”, you know?

    Meeting people where they are at and providing an environment for them to meet God is, to me, what church should try to be about. I have recently been on the other side of this arrangement, visiting churches and trying to find a home. Don’t be discouraged by those that walk out — sometimes I think that God has taken our broken splinteredness and used it, as he always does, for good by letting each church meet specific needs.

    Nice to “meet” you, by the way.

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  3. Hi Nate,

    We (The Common Table – http://commontable.org – in northern Virginia, near DC) just celebrated our sixth anniversary. We are maybe 30 “core” adults plus our kids. At a Sunday worship service or weekend “service-worship” service project, average attendance is probably not quite 15 adults. After six years, it doesn’t get much easier to see folks come, seem to really hit it off with us, and then just stop coming. But we are 30 people who are good friends, who in strong relationship challenge and delight each other as we try to follow Jesus together. We are 30 people who know and love and take care of each other’s kids, even if we don’t offer them a rockin’ Sunday School program. We are 30 people who regularly make a difference together, through friendship and hospitality and service, in the lives of folks we’re connected to in our wider communities who aren’t “core members”. And we are 30 people who have the freedom to “do church” and “be church” together as we feel called to do and be church. We are 30 people who are regularly amazed by what God seems to be doing in our midst.

    But after six years (I’ve only been around for two of them), it’s still difficult not to judge ourselves by those “other” marks of success. And I have to tell you, Nate, it’s not necessarily true that if we’re faithful to the way we’re called to do Christian community, it’s just a matter of patience, and those “other” marks – a larger gathering, the resources for nifty programs and staff – will come. And I’m not sure we should want them to. But they’re painfully hard to let go of!

    I’ll be praying for your community, brother.

    Peace,
    Mike Croghan

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  4. I can completely sympathize with where you are coming from. Sounds like out community (http://www.cometothewell.com) is in much the same place as yours.
    The hardest part for me over the years has been watching people who connected with us and “stuck” for a while (sometimes years), who then decided to move on because we couldn’t provide for something they were looking for (to play in a worship band, big kids’ ministry, etc.).
    You’ve nailed what we have learned about the mindset of what matters. It’s just hard to remember sometimes. And very slow. But beautiful.
    Grace and Peace.
    J

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  5. Hey Nate,
    Found you through The Emergent Village blog. As I read your thoughts (and the thoughts of Cory’s, too) I felt at home. Seven months ago I was a part of a group of eight people that felt like we didn’t fit in the traditional churches that were visible around us. We call ourselves The Experiment, which is really short for Experiment in Ecclesia. Our whole goal is to pursue what we see as the purpose of the church, and for us, that purpose is centered around community. It’s tough for those of us who have grown up in traditional churches.

    I know the struggles your referring to. I struggle with them every week. I get caught up in thinking that, “if we get just a little bit bigger, then we can really make a difference.” Those are lies. If I can offer any encouragement I would offer this: Every day stand before GOD and ask, “What do want us to do?” and as best as you can follow that with all your heart. Don’t allow someone else’s vision to distort the one that GOD gave you.

    Blessing on your tribe,
    stephen.
    oh, yeah. if it would encourage you, check our little experiment out here: http://experimentsinecclesia.worpress.com

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