Special parking in nearby spaces. Greeters at the door. Helpful signs in strategic places. A plan for helping people have a good experience and thereby want to return again. A plan for building a reputation in the community. A way to meet the needs of the people who come – from people with children to those who struggle with getting around.
These are things I have found myself talking about in various settings with church leaders and pastors and consultants. It also seems to be what Wal-Mart or Bass Pro Shop might be working on in their meetings. It makes sense for Wal-Mart – theirs is a business with customers who spend money and allow the business to continue growing and serving the community. The more people they can get into their store and buying what they’re selling, the more successful they are. It doesn’t make as much sense for the church. The church is not a business. The church isn’t even an organization – at least I don’t think it’s meant to be.
Don’t misunderstand: the church – the community of faithful followers of Jesus Christ – should be organized, but the community of the faithful was meant to be just that – a community. The problem is that the church, for decades if not centuries, has been more organization than community. The focus has been on measuring and considering how the organization is working and flourishing. The idea has been that by focusing on “the church” we would foster a greater sense of community. But, that idea has not borne out as valid.
I propose that we stop focusing on the church. Instead, let’s focus on community. I propose we develop a deeper sense of community in smaller, more intimate groups, and then bring those groups together to share, rejoice, celebrate, pray, and sing. I propose that we see ourselves as families who grow together (discipling home groups) and who gather for regular reunions with our extended family. Just like families work together in the day-to-day to help one another, so can discipling groups. And, just like those families feel connected to their extended family, so too can we feel that sense of community together. I propose that we gather together AS the church and worship together with great joy and gusto. I propose that we utilize the resources we have together and impact our world in real ways. And I propose that we begin by making discipleship the greater focus of our energy.
The change is subtle, but it requires a significant shift in focus. It requires us to focus on our “family,” our community of disciples – the faithful followers of Jesus Christ who strive to live out their life with Christ every day and who want to know God at a more intimate level. It requires a purposeful engagement with the Holy Spirit. It requires a willingness to go deep in prayer and to confess our sins and to seek a more righteous life in Jesus. It requires more personal intimacy and vulnerability.
The shift in focus will take real effort and must be intentional, but I believe the result of this change will be a brighter source of light in a dark world. I believe the result will be a stronger church.
The idea in recent times has been that by focusing on making a stronger church we will foster a greater sense of community. I believe the opposite is true – focusing on a greater sense of community in “families” (small groups) and focusing on the gathering of those “families” for times of worship and fellowship will foster a stronger church.
It is the harder work. It is not as easy as parking spaces, signage, and good programs (although, those are NOT irrelevant). It is the harder work of loving one another deeply. But, if I remember what I read in a good book, it seems that this is the work to which we are called – to love one another, to serve one another, to disciple.
For those who follow Jesus and attend Asbury UMC, we are moving this direction. It may happen in fits and starts, but we are determined to make it happen. I hope you will join us and see the powerful work of God that is yet to come.
Holy high-five to you,