the weblog of Alan Knox

Transitioning toward participatory church gatherings

Posted by on Jul 19, 2013 in blog links, gathering | 9 comments

Transitioning toward participatory church gatherings

Yesterday, on Dave Black’s blog (Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 7:48 a.m.), I read a snippet of an article on the website of Milipitas Bible Fellowship written by Brian Anderson. The article is called “Discovering Participatory Church Meetings.”

The article includes some great historical information, from the Jewish background, to New Testament evidence, into the second through fourth centuries, and even including the reformation. At each point, the author explains what was happening historically and how those events and circumstances affected the way that believers gathered together.

But, my favorite part of the article is near the end and is called “Our Journey in Implementing Participatory Meetings.” I love how the author explains some of the steps they took together to help each other understand why it’s important that they all participate together when they gather with the church.

For example, here’s one “step” in the process:

After a few months, as we became more comfortable with these informal home meetings, we began introducing more participation into our Sunday gatherings. I informed the congregation that anyone could participate by reading Scripture, praying during a lull in our praise singing, or starting a song that was on their heart. I brought the podium down from the platform to the lower level so that I could be closer to the people, thereby encouraging mutual interaction. We rearranged the chairs into concentric semi-circles so that we could look into one another’s faces when speaking, instead of the back of someone’s head. We bought a wireless microphone and began passing it around to those desiring to share what God had been doing in their lives or to encourage us by declaring what God had been teaching them from His Word. Sometimes these sessions included exhortations, admonitions, teachings, or the sharing of blessings or burdens. One woman revealed that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer. This allowed the whole church the opportunity to tangibly express their love and commitment by gathering around, laying hands on her, and praying. These changes felt a bit awkward at first. We had no previous model to guide us, and thus, felt a bit uncomfortable with them. Before long, however, many began contributing some very edifying insights and exhortations.

Take the time to read this great article, especially that last section. Many people believe that “traditional church” can never change. It’s just not true. It’s happening more and more.

However, in order for this kind of change to be effective, we must make careful changes, caring about the people involved more than we care about making sure we’re doing everything right.

For many of my readers, the quotation above sounds overly rigid and controlled. For others, it sounds incredibly freeing. For still others, it looks strange, alien, and completely impossible.

For me, the exciting part of this article is that they realized they needed to change, and they took the steps necessary to implement that change in a way that worked for them.


9 Comments

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  1. 7-19-2013

    Beautiful… absolutely beautiful.

  2. 7-19-2013

    Alan, thank you for sharing. I so would love to join a church like this. Our “little-big” church is much to stuck in tradition to go this route, unfortunately. However, I am on the look-out for a small church that is interactive, casual and CARING like Messiah.

  3. 7-19-2013

    While my church was not regularly participatory, there were Sundays when “the playbook” went out the window and the people in the seats had more opportunity to add their own input.

    Sadly, over time, the church has moved away from these opportunities and more toward the “show.” This is as a result of modeling the habits of a larger, “more successful” church.

    While this has served to bump up attendees (temporarily, I’m sure, until inevitable ennui sets in), I personally have found myself drifting on Sundays, wondering what happened to the church I once knew. I know this only paints me as a malcontent whose longing for the olden days stands in the way of “progress.”

    So I would offer that while more churches may be moving toward the participatory model, perhaps as many may be moving away from it.

  4. 7-19-2013

    This is encouraging! 10 years ago we probably wouldn’t even be discussing such things. It’s more evidence to me that God is indeed on the move and actively prompting and stirring His people, His Church, to move into something He wants to do. Many won’t, many will resist, but I’m confident that still many more are beginning to desire and long for the ‘something more’ and life, true life, more abundant!

  5. 7-19-2013

    Well, this is about 50 miles from my home. Hmmm.

  6. 7-19-2013

    Just a reminder: Quaker churches of all types along the church spectrum have had participatory meetings for as long as there have been Quakers. I married into a family with Quaker roots (now Evangelical Friends) and have been to some totally participatory meetings.

  7. 7-20-2013

    Wow, that’s awesome – what an inspiring story of a church that has made the transition from trad evangelical polished meeting to open participatory! I wonder if I might persuade my church leaders to try a few of these things… (A few more of these things, I should say – we already do a few of them.)

  8. 7-22-2013

    It was encouraging for me to see this example. It’s very similar to the journey that we took together as a church.

    -Alan

  9. 7-29-2013

    I enjoyed the article. He had strong scriptural references. He quotes Jon Zens whom I have met and know has some solid writings about the early church. I have to chuckle though when he mentions a podium and the fact there is still a “sermon” that they talk and participate in discussion afterwards. He mentioned in the history discussion about the great Roman orators that rose up to dominate meetings in the 4th century. That is where the sermon centric meeting came from. I’m glad they are making steps toward open participation, now it’s time to shed the podium all together. Come prepared, but expect The Lord / HS will prepare a message built by grafting together the collection of preparations from within the body. This takes a lot of trust in the HS for formally trained “pastors”. The scripture references to moments when people like Paul taught a large group were more exceptions; he was training up churches at that time. Once churches were established the meetings didn’t need a sermon to drive the discussion but relied on the HS to set the agenda and drive the body’s out pouring.