Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2010

Eight Things To Look For In A “Real” Church

It’s less like a train station and more like the pub in Cheers.

In yesterday’s link list, I included David Fitch’s piece “Eight Things You Should Notice At a Missional Sunday Gathering” from the blog Reclaiming The Mission.   I can’t think of anything better today than to amplify the ideas contained in this excellent article.

As someone who has had their work ripped from their blog and reposted in a variety of different forms, I want to make it clear that I’m paraphrasing, extrapolating and putting my own spin on David’s text.   You are therefore strongly urged to read the original blog post.    Also, he is claiming these as features of missional churches.   I am suggesting that he’s touched on something that goes far beyond that church definition.

  1. Team Leadership, i.e. not autocratic.   At the end, people leave having heard the sound of many voices.  What’s often termed “a plurality of leadership.”  This can include invisible leadership.   If there is a senior pastor, he or she is often in the background, or mingling among the ‘common folk.’
  2. If there’s a script for the service, it’s written in pencil on the back of an index card.   In other words, there is flexibility and flex time (they’re different) built into the service planning.   There can be a commitment to excellence, but some of the best worship will take place in moments that are fragile or even tentative.   There’s room for the Holy Spirit to break in through people who have a variety of giftings, and also through people who we may not consider gifted at all.  There’s every attempt to create visitor-friendly environments, but not to necessarily control those environments.
  3. There is ample evidence that the people gathered together are in community with one another.   This happens naturally, not with name tags or photo directories.    It’s less like a train station and more like the pub in Cheers. Connection to the larger world takes place in mid-week situations, though there are many openings for those people to be assimilated into the community.
  4. You see similarity to the diversity of the early church, where there was neither Jew nor Greek (ethnicity), male nor female (gender), slave nor free (status), etc.   This doesn’t mean that these people exist in sub-groups or cliques, but there is full integration, perhaps even in small groups if they exist.
  5. Warmth, friendliness and caring are communicated naturally.   There are no greeters at the door because everyone knows to give a welcome to someone walking in; they want to do this.   No time is spent “passing the peace” or shaking hands because everyone has already connected with the people sitting near them before the worship has begun.
  6. The true service and indeed the life of the congregation kicks into high gear when it ends.  The real ministry takes place after the last speaker has finished.   A day after reading David’s article, I read about a dream someone had where the pastor said, “And now we’ll begin our time of worship;” and at that moment the ushers flung open the doors and the people filed into the streets.    (Wish I could find the link.)
  7. The service is interactive.   Fitch talks about having the chairs arranged in a circle instead of in rows.   That’s just part of it.   There is the expectancy that everyone has something to contribute, and some of those contributions may be spoken words to everyone else.   Everyone gives.   Everyone receives.   Think of a Pentecostal or Charismatic service but without the “forms” or “attachments” present there when someone has a word in tongues or a word of prophecy.
  8. Fitch’s eighth point is ethnic diversity which I’ve already included in number 4.   I’d simply add this:  No one is left out.   The ‘flavor’ of the church’s programs reflects the people who are actually present; furthermore they play a part in the development of those activities or ministries.   Also — and this is often the tough one — the diversity should be reflected in staff and leadership positions, too.

Once again, don’t miss the original post at Reclaiming The Mission.

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