the weblog of Alan Knox

Can a traditional church allow more participation?

Posted by on May 19, 2011 in blog links, edification, gathering | 16 comments

Can a traditional church allow more participation?

I’ve enjoyed reading Chris’s blog “The Amplified Life.” He writes about both concepts and practices. I love that!

One of his latest posts is called “Open Sharing in a More Traditional Setting.”

Chris admits at the beginning of the post that they are the typical traditional church in America. But, recently, they’ve started allow others in the church the opportunity to speak.

Here is part of his description:

Whenever we begin the sharing time I open by saying, “Does anyone have any words of encouragement, testimonies, praises or prayer requests?  What is God doing in our lives?”  I specifically use that order because (1) I want people to be encouraged to share their “God stories” with the community; (2) it is important for others to hear what God is doing around us; (3) and while prayer is a great gift and very important, I don’t want it to turn into “Please pray for my aunt’s, nephew’s, brother’s, son’s, best friend’s sister’s pet gerbil.”

For the first few months we received mostly, if not all prayer requests.  But then gradually we began to have others share some testimony.  Then others would share a word of encouragement.  Now, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it has taken on a life of it’s own.  Sometimes we have taken 10-15 minutes during our “traditional” worship time to share what God has done and is doing and what we are praying to see God do.  the feedback from the community is that it has become or is becoming one of their favorite aspects of our corporate gathering.

Now, I know that some of my readers are part of more organic churches that allow participation by anyone while they are meeting together. But, while you may think this group of believers has a long way to go, don’t overlook the fact that they are moving in a direction that is contrary to the traditional church in America.

And why are they doing this? Just for the sake of changing and being different? No! They are making this change because they believe it better aligns with what they’ve found in Scripture. (Chris talks about some of these passages of Scripture in his post.)

I praise God that these people have decided that it’s important for a larger part of the church to take part in the meetings, and they’ve started moving in that direction!

Do you know of other traditional churches who have made this kind of change, or one similar to it?


16 Comments

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

  1. 5-19-2011

    Alan,
    Thanks for sharing this and for the encouragement. I ask you and your readers to please pray for us as we seek to continue to be obediant to God in these endeavors.
    -Chris

  2. 5-19-2011

    Alan, it is indeed a step in the right direction and we can rejoice in that. However, a football game is not over until the 4th qtr whistle. It will be interesting to see if it further develops. Our Sunday morning fellowship started that about five years ago, but the sermon time is still as entrenched as before and if anything is sacrificed because of time constraints it is the sharing time.

    What I have noticed is if the leadership gets the revelation of more member participation there is hope. If it comes from the pews, then usually they end leaving out of frustration.

  3. 5-19-2011

    It’s good to see a church moving in a more Scriptural direction. The church my sister-in-law used to attend had something similar, but it usually devolved in just prayer requests and announcements.

  4. 5-19-2011

    Chris,

    I’m glad that you’re sharing these posts with us. I think they will especially be encouraging to other people in traditional churches. How are the other leaders in the church responding to the sharing time?

    Jack,

    I think that Chris is one of the leaders. But, I agree that the change must come from both directions. Also, I think both groups (leaders and non-leader) must have patience with one another.

    Fred,

    Awesome! Of course, the leaders must continually encourage people to share and explain to them how important it is. I’ve found it helpful to encourage people who do share. Also, if someone says something to me in private, I’ve tried to encourage them to share it with the whole group, explaining how beneficial it would be.

    -Alan

  5. 5-19-2011

    Alan,

    I think “traditional churches” can encourage more participation. But, in the long run, there are some group dynamics that are going to influence things.

    In a group of more than 20 or so, a lot of people naturally have the tendency to clam up, and let those in charge do the speaking. Then, if you give too much freedom, in a big group, there are some big talkers who may take advantage of the situation, and attempt (sometimes without realizing it) to sidetrack the flow of the meeting, and, quite possibly, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    In such a situation, church leaders, who have a vision for greater participation, can encourage others to participate, facilitate that participation, and, to some degree, seek to channel it in a positive direction.

    But, full-fledged, on-going participation (not just of the loudmouths, but everyone) is going to happen more naturally in smaller group settings.

    If “traditional churches” try to ensure this type of thing is going on in small groups within the larger congregation (without cutting off all participation in the larger meetings) they can move things in a good direction. But, the key is for the main leaders to embrace that vision.

  6. 5-19-2011

    David,

    If the mutual teaching, encouragement, and edification happen in the “small groups,” then why would anyone need to meet with the larger group? Wouldn’t the “small group” then be the church and the larger group be unnecessary?

    -Alan

  7. 5-19-2011

    Alan,

    Perhaps. I am not opposed to “small group” house churches. But, since you asked about “traditional churches,” I was answering from that perspective.

    However, I think large group meetings can add something to the edification of the Body of Christ. They can allow you to “rub shoulders” with a lot more brothers and sisters in Christ than just those in your small group. They can give those who are especially gifted at teaching the Word of God to have a larger platform to exercise their gift. The joint singing, and other expressions of congregational worship, in a large group, can provide an emotional uplift, which, although it can be a substitute for genuine worship, can also be something positive. They can provide a visible image of the larger Body of Christ for the surrounding community.

    The problem is when the participation that ought to happen in a good small group doesn’t happen it all, or the large group dynamic overrides the importance of the small group participation.

  8. 5-19-2011

    David,

    In this post, I was pointing to a traditional church that was starting to allow others (besides the leaders) an opportunity to speak when the church meets together. I think this is a positive step. Why? Because for this group of believers, most of them (if not all) probably consider that large group to be “church” while they do not consider smaller gatherings to be church (assuming that also occasionally gather together in small groups).

    Your comment, however, reminded me of a point that I’ve brought up before. If everything we need for mutual growth and edification is occurring when we meet in smaller groups, then those small groups are the church, regardless of what we think of them. Of course, if we gather in larger groups, those are church also (since church is a gathering of God’s people).

    Interestingly, though, there were larger gatherings (apparently) of believers during the NT period as well. Why do you think we don’t have different instructions or examples of who to meet in larger groups? Why do you think Paul said, “Whenever you come together…” in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and then list things that most today say can only be done in smaller groups?

    -Alan

  9. 5-19-2011

    Hi David,

    I understand what you are saying about the group dynamic issue. Our first gathering is about 40-50 people and our second gathering is about double that. This was a concern of mine early on but I have to admit that we really have not seen any of this. there are a few people who talk every week, but I see no issue with that. Thankfully, it has been a real positive experience. Not everyone shares, but the opportunity is present for all.
    Blessings,
    Chris

  10. 5-19-2011

    I attended a traditional church for a few years, specifically because they had a more informal early service. In addition to a sharing time as you discuss above, anyone could sign up to share a message on a following week. Many people did both, and on occasion, the Holy Spirit truly had His way.

    Then the pastor left. The new pastor didn’t want a congregation divided by two services, so the two were “blended” together. The only sharing that was allowed were prayer requests. The actual result was that almost all of those who attended the early service left the church, myself included.

    I found it very sad that the only life they had was squashed in the name of “community.”

  11. 5-19-2011

    Alan,

    I would agree that the small group really is church. The large group is also an expression of church. I guess, technically, it would be more accurate to use the same language with the small group–it is also an expression of church. But, if I had to choose between the two, I would say that, for the very reason we are discussing here, biblically, the small group is more important than the big group.

    As far as 1 Cor. 14:26 is concerned, I know this is a verse that you have thought about in depth, and that you also know a lot more Greek than I do. But I just went back and read a lot of English translations of this verse. The great majority use the word “when” instead of “whenever.” I am not sure, but the impression I get from this, is that the list of things that happens is descriptive, not prescriptive. In any case, if we want to make it prescriptive, then we would probably need to say that there should be tongues and interpretation of tongues in every church meeting. I does seem prescriptive that “everything should be done for edification.”

    In any case, we don’t have a whole lot of descriptions in the NT of church meetings. I suppose you could say the meeting in Troas in Acts 20 is another example. You could argue that, due to the use of διαλέγομαι that the meeting was participative. But I don’t see the same elements as in 1 Cor. 14:26–i.e. no hymns, no revelation, no tongues, no interpretation of tongues–at least not specifically mentioned; just interactive teaching, led by Paul, and sharing in the Lord’s Supper. I guess you have the prayer meeting where the believers were gathered in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, praying for Peter, as well. But once again, the only activity specifically mentioned there is prayer. There are probably a few other examples as well, but those are the ones that come to mind. So, what I gather from this is, not every NT church meeting necessarily had to follow the format of 1 Cor 14:26. The important thing is that, in the ongoing life of the church, there was adequate opportunity for participation and “one another” ministry.

  12. 5-19-2011

    Chris,

    Are the other leaders among the church supporting this sharing time as well?

    It’s interesting that in a nonparticipatory meeting, the same people always speak from week to week. But, in a participatory meeting, people are concerned that some of the same people might speak from week to week.

    akaGaGa,

    That’s very interesting. I’m hearing from more and more traditional churches that are understanding the importance of allowing the whole church to participate. I’m sorry that the new leader decided to change things.

    David,

    I agree completely with your comment. Your last sentence is very important: “The important thing is that, in the ongoing life of the church, there was adequate opportunity for participation and ‘one another’ ministry.”

    -Alan

  13. 5-19-2011

    Alan,
    The other leaders are among the church and they support it by participating as well. Again, not all of them share every week, but when they have something to share they share it.
    -Chris

  14. 5-19-2011

    Chris,

    That sounds great! If they’re like me, there are times they talk when they should remain silent, and times they remain silent when they should talk.

    -Alan

  15. 8-19-2011

    I used to go to church with my best friend at Pentecostal church–40 years ago–they were doing exactly what your friend describes then. It got a little embarrassing sometimes when some guy would stand up and start confessing all his sins, too. The Methodist Church I grew up in was doing that exact thing in the 1980’s (except the confessing part LOL). Yes,it’s commendable they are allowing 15-20 minutes during the worship service to share. BUT. It’s still not face-to-face, open-participatory body life with “one another” that carries out into daily life as brothers and sisters share community as a lifestyle the way the early church did. And it’s still not letting the Holy Spirit lead the whole gathering for the entire time in a spontaneous expression of Christ as the “second incarnation”–His Body. Very commendable…but not “ekklesia” the way we see it in the NT.

  16. 10-5-2012

    I’m so encouraged to hear this. I’ve been writing about this for years. Please Lord, let this spread!

    A few years back, a friend was out of work. I said he should not be afraid to share that fact before his whole church on Sunday. He said that was not something that would be allowed.

    “Allowed.” We have a LONG way to go.