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"Community and Belonging" (Chapter 4)

"In our time people search for community, not committee."  This is a big reason why I see hope for the stong, small church.  Small churches are not minature large churches.  They operate on a different organizational princple.  The basic principle of small church life is relationships.  If that's what people are searching for, there is nothing to apologize for in being small.  An attribute of a missional church is being a community of disciples in mission to their community and the world.  The smaller church, majoring in a healthy sense of community and belonging can be just such a group.

Ironically, this small church strength and opportunity for mission is also the place of its greatest weakness.  To use C. Peter Wagner's term, some churches have let koinonia become "koinonitis."  In a survey of small church leaders in the EPC, "closed fellowship" surfaced as one of the top five pressing issues facing small church leadership.  Comments from survey participants revealed that close relationships in a small church are an asset that can become a detriment if turned inward. A sense of "family" can lead the small church to be a closed group, not wanting others to come in and thereby change their equilibrium. The "family" may not realize that they are closed. A closed fellowship has little interest in evangelism or mission to their community (see Pressing Issues in EPC Small Churches for a summary of the survey).

Here's an example of what I think we're striving for.  A pastor's friend from out of town was visiting the pastor's small church on a Sunday.  Afterward, at lunch at the pastor's house, the visitor said, "I don't think I shook hands with anyone today."  After a flash of anxiety, the pastor was relieved when his friend went on to say, "But I had significant conversations with maybe a dozen people."  That's a sign of a strong congregation - small or large.  It is a sign of a church that is not preoccupied with itself.  It's members notice and give meaningful time to visitors.  To stay anonymous in that small church, you had to be deliberate, coming late, sitting in the back, and leaving early.

To put it directly, a church that has a closed fellowship, that is preoccupied with itself, has some repenting to do.  A church not concerned with others and with little interest in evangelism and outreach is not a church reflecting God's nature.  It is not being a faithful church.  The turn outward is a difficult but necessary one.  It may start with a few people and some experiments in mission, that, over time, gain some momentum.  It starts with modeling by the leadership.

Add your comments

Have you been part of a church that changed from inward looking to outward looking?  How did it happen?

What do you make of Callahan's comments about denominational organizational structures and the small church?

Do Callahan's comments about a two-cell church exelling at fighting ring true to your experience?

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Dan Krodel on Sep 4, 2008 10:41am

When I was Youth Pastor in a small town in upstate New York the church changed to outward looking when they began to get an idea of mission to the youth in the community. The young people didn't have anything to do since it was a small community in the Adirondacks. The public school provided all the activity. They stepped out in faith and hired me to start a new kind of youth ministry in the community. I was there about 8 years before we got to the point that we couldn't live on their wages anymore.

After I left the church decided to buy a corner lot in the center of town at considerable expense. They set up a gymn, an outboard skateboard park and a small diner/game room. They opened it up on Friday nights and some Saturday nights. The church became THE church for the young people. They implemented a "blended" worship because of all the young people. The church is now strong and thriving and still keep in close touch with our family.

This book really strikes a lot of chords with me in the church I am now serving. We even have the two cell thing going. Callahan keeps showing us what a strong healthy congregation looks like, but so far he hasn't given us any practical implementation ideas.

Right now it seems that we are still thinking in the terms of "vision driven" rather than mission. I can't figure out how to better communicate the idea of mission. Suggestions?