The Emerging Church Part III

I remember reading the book Bowling Alone a few years back. The premise of the book was that Americans are more and more likely to choose isolation and individualism over participation and community. Whereas folks used to bowl in leagues with friends; today folks are more inclined to bowl alone.

As I am a budding armchair sociologist (and a professional Christian), I began to do an impromptu study of this phenomenon in my local church. To my chagrin, I discovered that folks go to church either alone or with their family; sit alone or with their families and friends; glance, smile, wave and sometimes shake hands with the persons sitting on either side of them; and then go home. There is little or no genuine community being developed at church. Some churches try to alleviate this by offering Sunday School or small groups. What I discovered was that these attempts at fellowship groups were more likely to mirror the worship service with a main speaker/teacher and the class sitting passively; listening but not participating or relating in any way with those around them.

Gibbs and Bolger verify this by noting that in most churches, “… the only community expression in worship is the casual glance at other people who are enjoying their own personal worship. In this way, it is glibly assumed that community is found in the process of mutual recognition. However, the biblical understanding of community signifies so much more and far exceeds this individualized expression of worship” ( Emerging Churches 93).

The authors go on to describe how kingdom practices should deconstruct church practices through a “radical restructuring, redirecting, and reenergizing of the church” (95).

Emerging Churches focus upon at least five things when considering how to redefine the concept of “church”: a family, not an institution; a people rather than a place/a community rather than a meeting; a place of mutual accountability; relationships that give rise to a gathering; and a movement on a mission.

By focusing on the communal aspect of church, emerging churches are effectively able to eliminate the individualization and isolation that is so prevalent in many churches today.

The church is not solely about a gathering; it is about people. When a gathering occurs (which it should in order for the community to worship), it is simply a part of a holistic community life that is rooted in togetherness. Gatherings may or may not occur in traditional church buildings; emerging churches look for ways to keep the worshipping community decentralized. Finally, the heart of the community is a shared mission: Alan Hirsch calls them “communitas” (see The Forgotten Ways): small bands of devoted Christ followers who serve together in community with a common purpose.

There is no question that the 1st Century followers of the Way did church in community. Individualism is a product of modernism, and distorts the original intention of the communal movement that Christ initiated when He commissioned His followers.

The Church of the 21st Century must find ways to redefine herself as a communal, missional movement again.

We need each other.

Perhaps we should start simply.

Anybody want to go bowling?


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