the weblog of Alan Knox

Crossing the Boundaries of the Local Church

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in unity | 12 comments

Crossing the Boundaries of the Local Church

A few days ago in my post “Q&A Session,” I offered to give thought to and answer questions that my readers asked. Several people asked some very good questions.

Eric, from “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” asked about unity. Unity is very important to me, and given Jesus’ prayer in John 17, it is very important to him as well.

Here is Eric’s question:

What have you found to be tangible ways that Christians with varying views on the church can show their unity in Christ? So often we are semi-isolated within our own local bodies that we fail to live out the one-anothers with other believers. What are some real ways that you would suggest to promote unity?

Now, I want to begin with a statement that some of my readers may not like. But, unless we understand this, we will not know how to deal with the structures and the attitudes that hinder our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The ideology of the local church (as it is practiced today in many sectors) causes sectarianism and exclusivism that tends to divide the church. It could be more institutional local churches or more organic local churches.

In order to promote unity among God’s children, we must be willing to cross the boundaries created by the local church.  And, the person interested in living in unity with others will be the one who has to cross those boundaries. Other Christians will probably not come knocking on your door to serve Jesus together with you. You will have to be the to make the first (and probably second and third and fourth…) move.

The best way to cross those boundaries is through existing relationships with family members, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Those seeking unity will need to work with the churches that their family members, coworkers, neighbors, and friends “belong to.”

So, what are some real ways that I have attempted to show and promote unity?

Well, I want to begin with an example of what it means to cross the boundaries. As a church, we usually eat together on Sundays. We often invite other Christians to join us (after their own church meeting, of course). In fact, we tell them that this is an open invitation, and that we don’t expect them to “join” our church, only to have lunch with us. So far, very few have taken us up on that offer. Why? I think it’s primarily because it would require THEM to cross local church boundaries.

So, we have to be willing to cross those boundaries. The most obvious way that we’re currently crossing local church boundaries is through the local food pantry. The food pantry is hosted by a megachurch in our city. But, we’ve started going to their building and serving alongside them. We thank them for the opportunity to serve with them every chance we get. We’re trying to show that we are united with them in Jesus Christ, not only “spiritually” united, but united in our mission to “the least” in our community.

We’ve also found that children and teenagers more easily cross local church boundaries. Our teenagers often take part in the activities of other churches, and we’ve invited teenagers from other church to join us. We’re probably seeing more “success” in this than in any other way of showing and living in unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

We encourage the brothers and sisters who meet with us to meet with other churches – yes, on Sunday. Again, this works best if we “attend” with family, coworkers, neighbors, or friends who are part of the other church. Then, we try to continue fellowship by eating together with them, even if we need to make lunch or invite them to a local restaurant after the church meeting.

Furthermore, remember that Christians are often eager for fellowship with others, as long as it doesn’t force them to cross the boundaries of their local church. So, we work together with other brothers and sisters in activities that are often not considered “church,” such as homeschooling, Bible studies, community service, or parties.

Finally, even if other Christians will not cross local church boundaries, we can continue to invite them. But, don’t invite them only to your Sunday church meetings. Invite them to your home. Invite them to serve others in your community with you. Invite them on mission trips. Invite them to be part of your life. (Of course, this assumes that you are sharing your life with others.)

It is difficult to cross boundaries created by the local church. Some will think you are trying to “steal” sheep. Others will think you are “church shopping” if you are the one meeting with different churches. Some will think you are just plain weird. Don’t worry about what other think. Simply make yourself available and make efforts to spend time with other believers, especially those brothers and sisters with whom you already have a relationship.


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

  1. 2-28-2011

    Excellent post. It is a hard thing to do because unity, as you point out, is not a “let’s meet halfway” kind of deal. More often it is entirely one party crossing boundaries to fellowship with another. I of it as “unity means we will welcome you to meet with us, at the time, place and manner that we have decided on”. We aren’t really naturally wired to be the one who has to take all of the steps and that leads to scattered Christian fiefdoms all around the world that have minimal interaction with one another. We have been trying to go to other Christians and it has been rewarding but it does take a lot of work.

  2. 2-28-2011

    This is spot on. We have to go to them. This is something I have been learning the hard way. While I still have a hard time with the idea of sitting through a worship service, I have contemplated going into a Sunda school class to meet and network with others who have established ministries that are reaching out to the community. I’ve been sitting in my armchair speaking of the need for change for far too long. It’s time to get up, get out and make something happen.

  3. 2-28-2011


    Thanks for your response. I appreciate it.

    When we get uncomfortable at the idea of going to other believers (even 100% of the way), it helps to remember what Christ did in the incarnation. He came all the way to us, no questions asked. Then He died. This example shows us that we may need to go all the way to other Christians even if it brings some pain in the journey. But in the end, as with the crucifixion and resurrection, the joy will outweigh the cost.

  4. 2-28-2011


    Thanks for your follow-up post (“Achieving unity means being willing to make the first move“). You said, “We aren’t really naturally wired…” You’re right. But, I think we are “supernaturally wired” for unity, and we must learn to walk in the Spirit in this area as well.


    What ideas or plans do you have to “make something happen”?


    First, thanks for the great question. This is something that I should I written about earlier. I think the incarnation is a good way to think about this. I understand that you and your family “attended” a former church recently. Do you have any other plans to “go all the way to other Christians”?


  5. 2-28-2011

    One of my ideas is to contact some of the churches I pass on a regular basis, find out what they are doing in our community and when, then get my family involved. So far I have checked out a few of their websites for information on ministry, but according to the websites the only ministries they have cater to the membership through on site/age segregated programs. I’m hoping that a phone call or two will reveal something more promising.

    I also have a time set to have coffee with a local church planter that has a small gathering that meets about ten minutes from my home, right in the heart of the city. The vision they put forth on the website looks promising. They propose being together in one another’s homes and in the city day to day and meeting together as a large group about once a month.

  6. 2-28-2011


    Thank you very much for sharing that! You’ve given me some ideas…


  7. 2-28-2011

    I really liked your post. I have been seriously thinking of starting a “church at Penticton” website as a way to open conversation, share needs, help each other, bring some unity to the church in our community/local region. (I have previously set up a thorough data base of churches and organizations, which was very well received). But I have been wondering what kinds of things the churches would like included in such a site, and if they’d even all want to be listed.

    Reading your post, I realized what I really need to do is go out there and visit them on their “turfs,” getting to know them, sharing thoughts on a site dedicated to local church unity in face to face conversations. I also see that by going to them, where they are at, they can see that I am really seeking unity, not just trying to get them to do things my way, or just get them to sign up to yet another “program.”

  8. 2-28-2011


    I hope that as you get to know other believers they will trust you and work with your in your desire to bring the churches in your area together. Please keep us posted.


  9. 3-2-2011

    excellent!! amen.

    I find that to be a very consistent and funny fact around us. that people find it weird/hard to do “churchy” things with people other than “your church”. I would like to hope it comes from a genuine place that people are just trying to grow relationships and focus on relationships… so they manager their time… but the *way* they are going about choosing who those people are is wrong. They choose it by who is in their local church (in other words. who looks like them. talks like them. lives like them. and most likely agrees 99% the same theology they do).

    I believe that growth in Christ (like everything) is the only ‘thing’ that can fix this issue. It really is an issue. But I find when people walk with Christ and the relationship with God grows and flourishes then they can hear our Abba’s voice more and go where He tells them to go.. which often times are really uncomfortable and unexpected palces…. when can only feel His hand nudging us to certain directions when we know His hand. we can only hear the Spirit stretching us out of our comfort zones to interact with others different from us…when we know His voice.

    following the Spirit can look so messy, uneasy and it takes a lot of FAITH! the thing about it.. is that it’s a guide.. not a map – so it’s hard. It really takes a strong(er) relationship with God. Until then.. people look to other things to be their map. their church leaders, church routine, etc….

    I find that God is doing a beautiful job of bringing people into our lives to gather with. not daily yet…but certainly randomly. we are all on very unique different paths but just this week I really felt God telling me to not to worry about the different ways we are going to go… but instead look at how i could encourage them in their walk right where they are now. Even if it sends them in a direction even further away from where I am going… that doesn’t matter. as we grow closer in Christ we grow closer to each other even if it looks further away…. because we are all branches connected to the vine…. and as get closer to vine, get closer to each other!! 🙂 I got that visual a while back.

    encouraging each other to Christ is the key – whatever that looks like in that person’s path. it’s so much easier to demand others to go on the path you’re on. and so much easier to direct them that way… harder when they’re on different paths…

    our most recent gatherings are:
    * formerly homeless (months ago) minority couple who grew up lutheran and athiest
    * a baptist preacher and wife who recently liquidated their church’s assets to give and serve more.
    * a liturgical architect with a beautiful vision to build a church house.. recently broke ground on it. (I thought Chris would like that description)
    * a former catholic couple now associated with trying to start a house church that is associated with a home church network.

    and I don’t know how to describe us at all.

    and so it seems that many of us are going in all different directions so it wouldn’t make sense to meet…. yet I have been trying to encourage them to meet with the people God puts in your path in the moment. I don’t fully agree with them. i would argue i differ with them more than agree except on ‘core beliefs’.

    but i really do believe God is asking us to gather and interact.. even if it’s for a short time. however long.

    most people would only stay together if they could see being together forever and could see ‘using’ each other…. not the right word… but I am recognizing relationships are so transient (?) and we have to just take small steps.. no matter how insignificant they are. it’s all about the small seeds. seems that’s true in anything.

    small seeds. to encourage those people we’re given to cross paths with and trust God to lead each of us as He sees fit in His timing.

    I am really learning so much more about love, relationships…and feeling God’s Spirit at work in me as we all interact and learn to BE together.. than ever before.

    Gotta run – kids are calling 🙂

  10. 3-2-2011


    I try not to list the same person in my “Comment Highlights” two weeks in a row. But, you’re making it difficult for me.

    This is another very good comment! If you don’t start posting these on your blog, then I’m going to steal them and put them on mine.


  11. 3-3-2011

    hehe. you’re funny

    well… I DID IT! I deactivated my fbook account. after much wrestling about it and fighting with myself i just did it. i am ready to LIVE and not just pretend-live 🙂 i got way too sucked in and communicated with even my neighbors through it. it’s a GREAT GREAT GREAT tool but doesn’t help my stuck in the same 4 walls with my babies – stay at home mom syndrome. I need to GET OUT. and be intentional about it. so there you go. thanks for this post and the other that stirred me to finally make the decision.

    that being said. i’m hoping that frees me to write more. instead of getting out my writing/convictions/things He’s teaching me that I want to share via fbook.. hopefully i’ll start doing it via blog again. 🙂

  12. 3-3-2011


    I’m looking forward to your blog posts, and to how God uses you in other ways too.



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