Beyond the bait and switch of affinity and shared interest groups

There is a popular move to develop ‘affinity groups’ in church, i.e make relationships around shared interests, and to then tag on something spiritual, like praying for each other.  There’s nothing new in this approach, for the Anglican church opened its church halls post World War II to judo, and table tennis.  Churches often host world cup socials today, run cafe spaces, skateboard parks etc.

A common problem however is that the logic of the shared interest takes over and dominates the relationships.  People want to meet in a cafe, or pub to talk about Christianity but don’t want to practice or become Christians.  Or we end up with a bait and switch, the beer drinking group suddenly have prayer forced on them.  Or as happened in the UK, people think churches are spaces for judo, table tennis and girl guides, and not to experience God and become part of his people.

There are some more sophisticated approaches like ‘Activate’ by Searcy and Thomas.  My own church is exploring how we can make more of affinity groups, to grow the relational fringe of our church.

That’s one method of connection, but how does the practice of that shared interest become a discipleship process? Or to put it another way, that shared interest already has a ton of commitments and theological concerns with in it, how do you surface and engage with those?

My friend Andy Campbell made this D.Min project about beer. It explores not using beer as a ruse to get people together, but to use the process of beer making itself as a process for discipleship and christians formation.

How this might be extended to other shared interests and affinities seems a ripe field of investigation.  I’m hoping Andy Campbell will take on that challenge!