Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.
I’ve been hanging around church planters for longer than I care to admit, and underneath we’re a simple bunch. Ultimately what we’re interested in is finding ways of bringing Jesus to people who’ve not met Him, and helping them cultivate a lasting relationship with Him. Today that often brings with it the question “What does church look like for X?”1
But I have a niggling doubt. Let me explain…
One of the common starting points for people is identifying a “network” of people that they want to reach. Traditionally this has been a geographical area, but increasingly this is regarded as a bit “old-school” and instead we look to communities of people that share a common interest. This might be around a common place (a coffee shop, a pub, a gym) or a common interest (football, surfing, running, film, computers). In some cases, it’s a little more nebulous (like the spiritual-seeker movement). These, as I have said, have become increasingly popular, but I have some questions as to their success and longevity.
Here are some important questions:
One of the key motivators behind this method was to “go where people were”, but at it’s root, does this not mean that rather than providing genuine community (which is, I would argue, central to church) where there is none, we are instead trying to join existing community and create a new community within it? Brad House, in his excellent book Community2, suggests that:
”…a detached generation has created a culture of community within the church that reflects the uncommitted, nomadic characteristics of the culture outside the church…..the church should be a place where the cultural longing to belong and to be known is satisfied, not echoed.”3
Do these networks actually offer substantial community within which we can grow relationships? Some of them do, but much of the time I suspect that they are meeting places for individuals who don’t commune with each other. One of our speakers a couple of years ago on the Invest course was from Business Matters in Edinburgh. When asked about if they were planting a church, he answered “No”, because many of those who they minister amongst during the week have family and friends who aren’t part of that community. How many of these networks have people who are in significant relationships outwith that network, who have no interest in joining?
Do these networks represent a breadth of people that is (I would argue) vital for a healthy church life? Is there a good balance of ages, of married/single, of student/employed/unemployed? I do believe that network churches could work, but I think that this may only be in particular network types.
”…affinity-based groups have their place, but building groups around the mission of God will create opportunities for the gospel that affinity groups cannot.”4
A better solution may be to use “missional communities” as a way of reaching out in those areas, but retaining a link to a wider church family to resolve some of these questions. And I think that we need to seriously look at how the church can restore geographic communities that have lost their identity by planting vibrant, life-giving communities back into our areas.5
Which, in turn, begs the question “What is church?”, but that is, perhaps, a blog post for another day. ↩
“Community House, Brad - 2011 Crossway”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Community-Re-Lit-House-Brandon/dp/143352306X/ – Note that this book is primarily about developing your small/community groups, rather than specifically about church planting. ↩
Ibid. p113 ↩
Ibid. p114 ↩
Please note, I am not suggesting an attractional, “come to us” method of planting, but rather than geographical areas often contain identifiable communities with a breadth of people, many with existing relationships, where a lack of “community” is not necessarily by choice, but rather a significant void which we could serve. ↩