Challenges to Building a Missional Church — Three Observations.
Doing Just Fine Without You.
As people who are committed to living missonally a huge priority for us is the building up of loving inclusive community. We embed ourselves in a neighbourhood and practice hospitality and generosity for all. As people are drawn to these manifestations of love they begin to enquire and eventually they come to know the God of love who we serve. Sounds great right? Well, it is. To love people well, wherever they are at in life, to draw people in to this net of appreciation and mutual service is a beautiful thing, but what happens if the people you attempt to draw into community already have a community of their own?
After 5 years of tirelessly practicing generosity and hospitality we’ve come to see that people who have their own communities remain in many ways unreached. People collect naturally into small groups These groups of people form tight bonds, the result is that the vast majority of their socializing is done together, to the exclusion of others. They function as private groups once they achieve a size 4-8 people. The idea of intentionally welcoming others in, is a foreign and unwelcome concept to these friendship groups. They are not unfriendly to others, and they even participate in our larger community building events. But polite conversation and community parties is pretty much the extent of our influence. Understandably, we are not welcomed into the inner circle of their own communities, and they are not interested in merging into the community we’ve created because they have their own that works just fine.
In addition to this, we tend to collect up the broken, the wounded and the lonely because our community building ventures are truly inclusive. When people look for a community of friends they naturally want an environment that is safe and full of people who they are like. Our environment is anything but that. In fact the opposite is true, we pull together people with such profound dissimilarities it’s absolutely remarkable. There is no question that this fact is very distasteful for many of those in our neighbourhood who already belong in their own safe communities. There is no doubt Christians and non-Christians alike have scattered away from us, because we are a bit too inclusive for their taste!
So what do we do? Keep practicing generosity and hospitality, keep welcoming in the broken and lonely, keep extending the hand of friendship into these other existing groups, grateful for any influence however small it might be.
Community Building is a nice idea but…
Community building is all the rage these days. The Missional church movement is not even leading the charge on this, the broader public is fully engaged as well. The Vancouver Foundation will actually pay anyone real money to build community! Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been given away so that we as a city can build community. The report’s are in, we all know that people are isolated, alone, and disconnected, we all know that welcoming people into community is hugely beneficial to all. “Better Together” is the oft used phrase that flutters around our city like the seagulls. But, when it comes right down to it, building community requires effort and sacrifice, time and energy. We are all down for an occasional picnic, or block party. Being responsible for polite conversation, a casserole and some wine are totally doable for most, but if community building requires more that that, well, lets not get carried away! Truthfully in the minds of most the cost of community building still out ways the benefit.
We are a self absorbed culture, we do what we want to do when we want to do it. Christians are no different. We are all still consumers at heart, which means we shop around and spend our time and money accruing pleasurable things and experiences for ourselves. Christian people want something that benefits them, the unasked question of most who look at our little church is “How does this church benefit me?” Non-Christian people appreciate our efforts as well as any Christian, maybe even more so, but at the end of the day they appreciate us based on how we perform. The actuality of being part of a community of people who genuinely function together as a “sent, family of servants” remains largely unrealized. Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments, and there are a lot of good things to be said for our efforts, But ultimately it’s still “What time does church start?” What do you offer?” or “When’s the next party?”
So what do we do? I guess, tell them that we meet at 10:00 on Sunday’s, tell them that we offer them a chance to be part of a community on mission in the everyday, and tell them to show up next Sunday night for our next big community building event. Celebrate the small victories as well, someone might not be totally intentional yet with their life but if they come to a block party and stay an extra hour to talk to someone they wouldn’t normally talk to, that’s a major step in the right direction! Over time, I believe that people will see that the church is more than an event, more than a religious good received. There will be those who cast off their consumeristic glasses and busy themselves with the work of living together in such a way that the love of Jesus shines brightly into every facet of the neighbourhood we inhabit.
No more room at the table
We have room at our dinning room table for 8, 10 at the most then we are full. I feel like this is a true picture of community life. One family cannot experience true community with 50 people, not even 25 really. What that means is, the Wilkinson family is full. We have no more room at our relational table. So how do we continue to “build community?” I think, what that amounts to is networking. We bring people into Meta’s net, and then we connect them to other people in the net. Hopefully friendships will be built and the relentless scourge of loneliness will be pushed back a bit. Our work of community building means we bring people together and connect them with each other. What it cannot mean is that the Wilkinson’s become best friends with everybody. It’s just not physically possible.
The problem is we don’t have a way to connect people together in any sort of strategic way. We don’t have loads of Christian people waiting in the wings hoping for a chance at friendship with someone who has a different point of view, we don’t have multiple missional communities scattered around the city just waiting for people to welcome in. We don’t have a weekly Sunday gathering that draws people together, plus the people we connect with would not come to that anyway. There is just us, and we are full.
So what do we do? We continue to connect people with people regardless. We hope that the friendships that emerge will benefit the neighbourhood and that somehow through all of these seemingly random connections people will find their connection to God.