Sunday, March 09, 2008

Church and Fellowship

Jim has been pondering the subject of "fellowship" lately -- namely, how it fits (or doesn't fit) into the larger context of our church experience.

I have mixed feelings about this and related subjects, but do have some thoughts I'll try to capture here. My feelings are "mixed" because I'm currently in the process of trying to settle on what "church" means, and what my part in it is. I'm aware of the whole "we are the Body of Christ" thing, and agree that it's bad to be separated from the Body, or to harm, neglect, or disrespect the corporate manifestation of Christ-followers currently on earth. When we start asking questions about what church is and isn't, those who are content with the more traditional models seem quick to point this out.

For the last few months, my family* has chosen not to attend Sunday-morning church services. When I first became a Christian in the early 80's, it was my belief that the spiritual state of believers could be gaged pretty accurately based on their church attendance, or lack thereof. Those who were backslidden had no interest in being around Christians or church, so they would stop showing up, and eventually reports would surface that they had fully returned to their old lifestyle.

At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to justify our decision not to attend Sunday morning services, I'll be honest here -- our spiritual state and relationships with other members of the Body of Christ are better now than ever before. That fact doesn't automatically mean that we can declare success, or start promoting our "church model" as being superior to the more traditional models.

What has worked for us, for several years now, is basically the "small group" as our primary expression of church. We did this when we lived in California, and when we moved to Tennessee, we managed to get "plugged in" to the same scenario here. What I'm referring to is not a once-per-week meeting, or some sort of coerced or contrived program. We do meet weekly, to sing, pray, take Communion, study the Bible, and just generally converse and communicate. But what I'm really talking about is a group of believers who have decided to live lives fully committed to one another. We can admit our faults and sins, acknowledge who we really are and how we really feel about things, and know that the underlying commitment will not cease. We take meals to one another during sickness or family crisis, act as emergency babysitters, share personal possessions in common for one another's benefit, we get together for meals, parties and other social events, and we do various service projects and neighborhood outreach things together (sorry -- I'm sure somebody somewhere just yelled "Bingo!" after this paragraph).

I don't mean to over-idealize this. It's messy, imperfect, and doesn't always function in a healthy or beneficial way. But I am being honest and transparent when I say that I believe every member of our group would agree that it's been tremendously beneficial overall, and certainly is the most intimate intersection between our individual, personal faith in Jesus and our need to share that faith experience with other believers.

*My family means my wife and me. Our only child has moved out of the house, and it's possible that we might be making different choices in many areas of our life if we had children in our household right now.


  1. CH,

    Thanks for that. I am becoming more and more strongly convinced that small groups are where it's at. I have no clue how to find one around here (and I don't want to start one - what a coward, eh?), plus I don't think my wife would go for it anyway. Except she is working two double shifts every weekend for the next year or so while in RN school, so she doesn't go to church anyway.

  2. We've never exactly been in something just like that, but sure feel like I've read about a bunch of people (can only recall this one right now) online that write about such "house church" like things like this...

    towards what jim commented, I've actually wondered with someone else online about trying to startup a site dedicated to the church community in our area (Richmond, VA) in terms of finding a church - in whatever way you want to consider it. I hadn't thought about it now, but that should totally include small groups I'd think...

  3. Jim - Since you mention "where to find one" regarding a small group, I should disclose (left it out of the post for the sake of attempted brevity) that both in California and here, the small groups we were and are in are affiliated with larger churches. In both instances, the "big church" gives the leaders and members of each group complete control over every aspect of the group -- when and where to meet, how often, format, what subject matter is taught or discussed, etc. They really only provide general oversight, provide help and resources upon request, and provide basic accountability. You know, so you don't have a bunch of weird little cults teaching heresy in the name of the big church or something. They also don't require that the attendees be affiliated with the big church in any way. If you're trying (among other things) to reach out to your neighbors or the unchurched, the last thing you need is some requirement of membership or affiliation with a specific church organization, just to have a meeting in your house.

    Chris - Thanks for stopping by! It's interesting that you cite Brant -- I've been a reader of his blog for a few years now, and am no doubt influenced by his thoughts and ideas on this stuff. Regarding the listing of small groups in an area church directory -- not sure exactly how you'd go about that. I think many small groups are probably already affiliated with a large church somewhere. Those that aren't might be somewhat fluid or dynamic, and a little hard to keep up with. Also, I'm not sure that a group like Brant's (i.e. purely home-based, not affiliated with a church at all) has any sort of plan to list themselves somewhere and invite visitors. Not that they don't want visitors; I'm sure they do. It's just that they feel like "growth" is an organic, Holy Spirit-led thing that spreads from person to person, and by word of mouth. Interesting thoughts, thanks.

  4. testing....using firefox,

  5. Amy - Thanks for checking it out for me. Hopefully this means you can comment now, and that it was just Blogger temporarily being fussy.