When I was in college I went to a mega church with a really big name pastor.It was a cool church and to be honest I went because there were a lot of pretty girls in the college group. But when I first went I had this strange idea. I began to wonder if it was possible to go to church without having any real communication or connection with anyone. I didn't go out of my way to avoid people, I just didn't do anything special.
For several weeks I would enter the parking lot, walk from my car to the sanctuary, sit at my seat, stay for the message and then leave. The only times I was engaged during those weeks were when I was handed a bulletin and when the church invited us to say hello to those around me. In both cases I didn't say anything more than, "hello". And I realized over time that I could hide if I wanted to.
And as I think about this little experiment, I realized that church can often be a place to hide if we want to. The structure of church allows us toshow up and punch our tickets, yet never really engage any real relationship. And to be fair, my experiment was essentially before the church began to embrace the "small group". Most of Ralph Neighbour's work had yet to be embraced on a larger basis. Most of the structures the church supported all happened at the church building. I'm not knocking this, just stating what was at the time.
And now I wonder if the church is at the point where it is realizing thatthe focus of what we're doing must be geared towards the small group, orcommunity, or whatever we want to call it. Because real community rarelytakes place on Sunday. Real relationship takes place with people we get toknow over time. And research indicates that we can't really get to know a large group really well. Our limits to real relationship are geared muchmore to a small group. And as we share life together, learning to follow Jesus and what it means to love together, we encounter real communitas. We encounter a space where love resides.
These are the spaces that look like dinners, and coffee and intimate conversations about how hard it really is to follow Jesus, but also how much it is worth it when we break through the barriers. These are the spaces where we encounter a group that is willing to deal with our worst so we can find our best. It is a place where we can experience love so we can be love.
And one of the tensions I find is that much of church is geared towards creating spaces where people can hide. And I get meeting people where they are. I truly believe in this in a big way. But are we creating spaces where people can get stuck in, even getting comfortable in their own complacency? This is one of my tensions about the Sunday meeting. It caneasily become, and has historically been, a place that leads to very little community. So when we show up on Sunday, the feelings of connectedness and community happens because of what we encountered outside of Sunday service.
One of the big comments that shows up in our Thrive groups is that people who take the journey to following Jesus in communitas say, "Why didn't someone tell me about this sooner?" And this statement sticks with me...alot. These are people who have been going to church for decades. They suddenly encounter a depth of relationship that comes from working through love together. They encounter a depth of relationship that comes fromworking through their fears and their doubts and their triumphs.
And when we engage the journey of following Jesus, we encounter real community where we can see love, or the face of God. And isn't that what we're really looking for? Aren't we looking for real glimpses, even deep reflections of our Heavenly Father that only come through other people?
And when we see those reflections, we begin to see that God is more real than we could ever have imagined. Not because we hear about it on Sunday...but because we experienced Him on Tuesday. I wonder if where so afraid to invite people into restoration because we don't want to scare them away, when in fact they are dying to follow Jesus and we just don't ask them?