the weblog of Alan Knox

Community in name only?

Posted by on Nov 5, 2010 in community | 6 comments

Community in name only?

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Community in name only?” In this post, I’m hoping to begin a dialog about what it means for a group of people to be a community. I hope you take part in the discussion.


Community in name only?

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.]


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

  1. 11-5-2010

    Community is not enough. I can find community at a Kiwanis club or Homeowner’s association if that’s what I need and often in better measure than a local church.

    The church is the body of Christ and local fellowship is defined by that or it is not “church” at all.

    Within that body there is “communing”. That’s another matter entirely. That is dropping the masks, assuming trust and offering it. It’s drawing closer to Christ with the result that when that happens, we will be closer to one another.

    Sadly, even when a local institutional church is focused upon Christ (how frequent that is, I’ll leave to your own determination) these elements are separated artificially and it requires additional efforts and commitments outside of “services” to move beyong staring at the back of other’s heads and elevating those physically already elevated upon a stage who vicariously lead us to enter into an experience which may or may not happen. At the extreme, someone could enter and leave without knowing or being known by anyone apart from the “fellowship” portion of the service where we turn around and shake hands while pasting on the required smile and flowery language.

    When “church” becomes focused on meeting social and community needs that are not exclusive to Christ and the purpose of the organic, living body of Christ, then it’s lost the core of its reason for existence.

  2. 11-5-2010

    This has really got me thinking. The obvious thing in this story is to be there to help you unpack and set up your house.

    But, in that I begin thinking about the early church. I think it would have been a big deal for a brother and sister to be moving closer. There would have been excitement, joy, and many other emotions, similar to what I would expect if I were to move back to my home town near my family. (Not exactly, but similar).

    It seems people are treated like prospects, not family.

    Here is a question for you, (ignore if too far off topic), shouldn’t there be some sort of instant bond between God’s children, and if so, why is there not in many of these situations?

  3. 11-5-2010

    Unfortunately, when I see “community church” nowadays, all I think of is a group of believers who do not want you to know what “denomination” they are from.

  4. 11-5-2010

    If I am part of a functioning community and not just a community by name only, I will be sharing my life with these people. I would not just be participating in activities facilitated by the organization, although that may happen as well. It is about everyday life – the good, the bad and the ugly – sharing it, being involved, being active in others lives and them in mine. Getting to know each other beyond the surface level. I am part of such a community, and I have been so blessed by it. We don’t have a name that groups us together, we have a shared life. We are family to each other.

  5. 11-5-2010

    I really like Jeff’s comment from November 12, 2007. It is what I was getting at, although better said.

  6. 11-5-2010

    I think the truest expression of “community” comes when it is not attached to any expectations or hopes that I will join a particular organization…

    I experienced this a couple of years ago when a family member was part of a new “church community” startup, and was super enthusiastic about my family becoming a part of the fledgeling group. When I responded by saying that I already felt that we were a part of the “local church” as a whole, and thus wouldn’t commit ourselves to coming to any one group on weekly basis (not to mention commit to giving all our money to that organization…) he suddenly became a lot less interested in having “community” with us. Mind you, we weren’t opposed to ever coming to anything, or being involved in stuff that God might prompt us to be involved in, but we simply weren’t going to “sign on the dotted line” and become “members”….

    This was not a welcome idea to my family member, or the pastor of the “church plant”…

    All of which really begged the question for me… Is “community” really the end you are seeking, or is it only a “means” to another end, namely, to get people to join your little group (be it institutional or not…)? Do you still want to have “community” with me, if I am unwilling to lend myself to being any sort of statistic in the growth of your “ministry”?

    True community doesn’t need a sign-up list to verify it’s own existence… (businesses do…)