the weblog of Alan Knox

Community in name only?

Posted by on Nov 11, 2007 in community | 13 comments

Imagine that you move into a new city. Just down the street from your new house is a building with steeple and a cross and a sign which reads “Community Church”. On Sunday morning you and your family walk to this building at the time indicated on the sign. You file through the doors, where you are greeted and handed an order of service. You find your way to a seat and wait with others while soft music plays in the background.

The meeting begins with someone welcoming you and your family and other “visitors”, and then quickly transitions into a time of music. You recognize some of the songs and sing along. Other songs are new, but you quickly pick up the tune and begin to sing on the second or third verse. One song in particular speaks to you and the frustrations that have been brought on by your recent move. An offering is taken to support the activities of this Community Church.

Next, someone teaches from a particular passage of Scripture. The teaching makes sense and the speaker is entertaining, but overall the message of the teaching is not particularly meaningful to where you are in life. You agree with everything the speaker says, but find your mind wandering to things that are pressing on you at the moment.

At the end of the service you are again addressed, along with other “visitors”, and you are all encouraged to make Community Church your church home. Several people shake your hand and introduce themselves as you all make your way out of the building, into your cars, and back home or to nearby restaurants.

That afternoon, while you are unpacking some of your boxes, someone from Community Church drops by. You had dutifully filled out the “visitors” card, so you were expecting this visit. The gentleman is nice and polite. He apologizes for interrupting you and asks if you have any questions about the church. You ask him why the church calls itself “Community Church”. He tells you about the different activities available at Community Church, encourages you to “join”, offers you some material, then dismisses himself graciously.

As he drives away, and as you return to your unpacking, you wonder to yourself, “If Community Church is a true community instead of a community in name only, what would I expect of them? How would I expect them to act towards me and my family, as outsiders? How would I expect them to act towards one another? What would I expect to happen on Sundays? What would I expect to happen other days of the week?”

How would you answer these questions? [By the way, I’m not saying that this fictitious group of believers known as “Community Church” is a community in name only. Instead, I’m asking what would you expect from a group of people that was a true community and not a community in name only.]


13 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-11-2007

    Let me ponder this one for awhile. I will think about it tonight and get back to you in the morning if the lights flash ….

  2. 11-12-2007

    This may sound weird, but here goes:

    If a church was really a community, I’d expect them to not be so eager to recruit outsiders. This isn’t to say that a community shouldn’t welcome strangers and provide hospitality. But I’m trying to figure out why a real community would actively be trying to recruit strangers into the community.

    I think that Christian communities should be open to new members, but this openness should be tempered with a sense of responsibility to the health of the community. In addition, I’d think that a community would want to know what a new member could offer to the community, just as the community would want to communicate what it could offer (and not offer) to its members.

    In short, I’d expect a “church community” to welcome the stranger and extend an offer to get acquainted and be of service. I would not expect a true community to recruit strangers.

  3. 11-12-2007

    Lainie hit on something that I have recently (in the past few years) been starting to notice.

    Church organizations that focus on “reaching” people seem to operate on an insatiability that drives them to always be reaching for more. I’ll resist the urge to guess at the motives there, but here’s the thing: If each person reached becomes seen rather quickly as part of the machine that is reaching for others, what value is there? It’s a never-ending cycle.

    In fact, I would almost say it’s almost like a pyramid scheme in many ways…

  4. 11-12-2007

    I suppose that if the members of Fictional Community Church were trying harder to look like a Community that wasn’t just one in name only, the first thing they should have done was invite this family into their Community life… and also reach out to really become a part of the family’s life as well.

    For example, I would expect a caring bunch of individuals to hear “We just moved into the area” and then take the next step of offering any help they could, pressing past the awkward “Oh, no thank you” to be really sure that this family didn’t have any immediate needs, like help moving some boxes around. And I’d also expect warm and friendly individuals to be offering invitations to lunch after the service as well. I mean, to me, Fictional Community Church sounds like they’re just welcoming visitors in name only. If they want to really know people, they’re going to have to step out and be a little more welcoming… ;)

  5. 11-12-2007

    This is good, Alan! We need to think of ourselves more like the “city within the city,” as Mark Driscoll puts it. How would a kind, caring group of neighbors welcome the new folks?

    Even if you keep the meeting exactly the same, when the “gentleman” stops by, that’s when the “community” church earns its moniker.

    Monsieur Gentleman needs to head straight home (if he doesn’t have a cell phone handy) and call 6-12 members to “drop by” at some point between then and 7pm to bring dinner, offer to help unpack, arrange furniture, etc. And it shouldn’t be a “move-in ministry team” with FCC t-shirts and all that. Just “neighbors” in the “community” who heard from a friend of a friend that a new family had just moved in, and wanted to welcome them “properly.”

    In other words, imagine there’s a small, friendly town in the 1940s. A new family moves into the neighborhood. What sort of greeting are they likely to receive from the (friendly) residents of the town? “Go and do likewise.” ;)

  6. 11-12-2007

    Nicole and I are in a unique position to answer this one, as we’re moving soon. :)

  7. 11-12-2007

    Hey Alan,

    I’ve tried to filter the word “expect” out of my vocabulary. If I expect something from someone than I just set myself up to be let down. Anything I do receive unexpectedly from someone is accepted as an undeserved gracious gift that I’m much more thankful for.

    That probably answers, for me personally, all the questions you asked.

    That being typed, I have a different point of view. What if the re-located family and the people of First Fictional (Baptist?) Community Church were all relatives by blood. Would the actions and love expressed be different(real, sincere) from either party? Is the concern for one another a natural(super-natural) or fabricated love?

    About six years ago my wife found out she had a half brother that she had never met. We found out he was living in Spokane, Washington. We contacted him and a few days later we drove to meet him. When they met the connection that they immediately had was amazing. Two people who had never met but loved each other simply because they had common blood running through their veins. It was very emotional. They talk by phone several times a month and visit each other often. You would think they had known each other their whole lives.

    My desire is that natural (super-natural) love for all my brothers and sisters regardless of familiarity or location.

    Jeff

  8. 11-12-2007

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Please keep them coming. I was hoping to use this post to kick off as series on community, but that series will have to wait. I may do a quick post or two later in the week about it, and I will probably include some of your comments.

    -Alan

  9. 11-12-2007

    Jeff,

    I think that thinking of a group of believers as a family is a great way to think about community.

    Lainie,

    I appreciate your comment. This is not a perspective that I have thought about. Of course, you are right. The difference between “recruiting strangers” and “welcoming strangers” is that we are not inviting people to a meeting, but to become part of a community. Thanks again for this great comment!

    Steve,

    Thank you for letting us continue to hear your voice. :) I see your comment in a similar vein to Lainie’s above. Yes, there is a difference between building an organization and building a community.

    Nicole,

    Welcome to my blog! I hope things go well on your move. Since we moved recently, and were the recipients of a “community move”, I was thinking about helping people who are moving when I wrote this post. I pray that God provides that help for you and Travis as well!

    Travis,

    Yes, “visiting” is not the end. Hopefully, the “gentleman” did just what you suggested. From experience, I know that this does not normally happen. Of course, God is raising children who are (super)natural, not normal. Again, blessings on your move.

    -Alan

  10. 11-13-2007

    One of our freelance writers passed along this news article about his aunt who recently passed away. I think it’s a great example of how a “community” minded person lives, and the impact their lives make.

  11. 11-13-2007

    Travis,

    Thank you for the link to the article. I agree that she is a great example of one who lives in community with others.

    -Alan

  12. 4-30-2012

    Acts 4:13
    Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
    Peter and John exhibited a family likeness to Jesus, who was a human after all, and had his own personality, favorite foods etc.
    We pick up traits from parents, mentors, teachers and others that impact us. They are inseparable from our spirit, because our souls express our spirit, especially when Jesus inhabits it (us)
    When our neighbors and new acquaintances get their first impression of us, it should be unvarnished, unlike our ‘learned’ professional or church person’s that we learn to drop as we find our identity in the Lord and accept that the only acceptance that matters is His.
    blessings
    Greg

  13. 4-30-2012

    Greg,

    Yes. As we learn that the only acceptance that matters is His, we also learn to accept others in him.

    -Alan

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