Friday, September 2, 2011

Traditional church = evangelistic tool?

Everyone recognizes the need for more intimate relationships in the church.  The command and desire for believers to love and serve one another is glaring.  Our deepest longing as a new creature in Christ is to have fellowship with our Triune God and with His family. So we set out in the best way we know how to make it happen.  

Some are trying to improve this through sermons, teachings and programs.  They begin where they are and work hard to expose the issues and promote ideas that they believe will bring everyone into that intimate fellowship.  With patience, grace and perserverence they toil with all their might no matter how long it takes.

Others see the system itself with it's paid pastors and passive laity as part of the problem so they set out to do church differently.  They let go of the structures and comfort of organized christianity and set out to begin with relationships and build from there.  Simple is the key word for them because relationships and fellowship are what matter most.

Okay Bobby, la-dee-dah, where are you going?

I wonder:  since there are so many who love the present church system and the need for prioritizing relationships with God and one another is so great, is it possible for them to have their cake and eat it too?  Even if you, like me, think that the system "as is" gets in the way of intimacy among the Body, is it possible to begin simply with relationships and eventually have a larger, more familiar type of gathering as a way of meeting people where they are and still keep the simplicity of relationships central?  

Think of it as a way for a simple church minded gathering to be incarnational to those who are comfortable with traditional church.  If you start with relationships and build up, reaching out in every way you know how including using the means of a more traditional type of Sunday service, is it inevitable that you will become another institution?  When the indwelling organic life of Christ is the focus and bond of the gathering, isn't it feasable that newcomers who are more attracted to the anonymity and comfort of a traditional setting will be drawn to the simpler house-to-house gatherings where the real growth takes place as they long for more of Christ?  Wouldn't the sermonized preaching approach be a great evangelistic tool to reach the many who are very religious but unregenerate?

I don't have all the answers, these are some things that are spinning around in my thoughts this morning.  What do you think? 


  1. Bobby,

    While it's not exactly what you're talking about, this was the plan that Willow Creek started with. Their Sunday event was geared toward the lost, introducing them to the teachings and gospel of Jesus Christ. The leaders did not consider this "church," but instead wanted believers to meet together during the week. Unfortunately, the Sunday thing was so ingrained in the mind, habits, and culture of Christians that they continued to see the Sunday event as "church." A few years ago, Willow Creek released a famous report admitting that they were not being very effective at helping believers mature, somewhat due to what I've mentioned above.

    So, is what you're suggesting possible? Yes, it's possible. In my opinion, the difficult part would still be to get people to move from the big weekly event toward the "simpler house-to-house gatherings".


  2. By the way... what you describe is also exactly how Luther first saw the church operating. The larger gathering (that looked almost exactly like church "worship services" today) would be for those who are not Christians. Meanwhile, those who are really Christians would meet in more intimate settings. You can read about this in the short prologue/preface of an essay he wrote in 1526 called "The German Mass and Order of Divine Service" (which should be available online). Unfortunately, Luther soon abandoned his "third kind" of gathering, and has been almost forgotten by the church today.


  3. While reading this, I thought of Willow Creek and the "small group" movement too. Some churches have found the house meetings beneficial, but still many prefer the anonymity of a traditional setting. What I'm wondering is why anyone would think that intimate relationships and traditional services must be mutually exclusive. Maybe we're not doing it right because we tend to drift from one extreme to another rather than trying to figure out a proper balance.

  4. I'm not sure if my thinking on this is clear enough to make a readable comment, but I'll try:

    There's something about traditional church that keeps our thinking cemented in religion. Considering Christianity a religion is where we error, I believe, because it's not! It's all about the Lord Jesus Christ and being brought into fellowship with Him and His body as a whole.

    Yes, some types of people get evangelized by the system, shown the truth of Jesus as our saviour, and become believers. But then there is that crucial, formative period of their spiritual babyhood, or "the honeymoon stage." They are so in love with Jesus, in love with their new family, and hungry to learn. If they don't tap into true fellowship at that time, they eventually come to the realization that religion is all it is. If they love the Lord Jesus, they usually agree to continue with the program--they'll do anything to stay close to Him even if it feels lifeless. Some stay for other reasons, some take off.

    What I'm trying to say is that, being in traditional churches that have cell groups or home group meetings still didn't meet the need in my heart for the true church operating as it should, because religion was still attached and draining the life out of it.

    A side issue is that they often break you into groups including your age group, so that's unnatural. We need a real family relationship, with all the different maturity levels involved.

  5. simple answer: No.
    may we consider also that the organic, etc., ekklesia much need grow in the grace and knowing of Jesus Christ to His fullness (which includes heralding the word of His Gospel, sowing, watering, etc., etc.).
    Let's take up our cross (even together) and delay not by various schemes that would submerge hope into jeopardy.

  6. Alan,

    I've heard of Willow Creek but I didn't know much about them. I guess history is still teaching, even recent history. Thanks for the info on Luther. I'm gonna check that out.

  7. Jenny,

    maybe your right, we need a proper balance. Question is, how does a mega group practice intimacy and serve one another without diverting into smaller groups?

  8. Ester,

    I share your experience with small groups. I think much of the desired intimacy and mutual sharing of Christ was lost because there was still a "leader". Someone always had to facilitate and through that the spontaneous work of the Spirit through the members was chained and bound to one persons vision of what the group should look like.

  9. Marshall,

    there is certainly a slippery slope on both sides of the straight and narrow. Still, I don't see how a person can be filled with Christ's life and not overflow onto others whether or they gather institutionally or organically. The power of God is in the proclamation of Christ as Lord and the living out of that Lordship.

  10. Hmm...Does your family do family reunions?

  11. Jenny,

    I've been to a family reunion. It didn't look anything like a traditional worship service. It was a large group sharing a meal together and catching up with one another. If this were the form of a traditional church gathering we could certainly have a large group with intimacy, a good balance. But if a typical reunion was dominated by a single speaker, fed with a breadcrumb and a thimble of juice and everyone sat facing forward because to speak to the brother next to you would be considered a distraction from more important matters, I'm afraid that wouldn't be much of a reunion and the group wouldn't look much like a family.

    if traditional church gatherings looked more like a family reunion and less like a show I could certainly concede your point.


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