Neighborhoods. Not Small Groups

The church I attend is attractional.  It is consumer. Finally, it is Mega.  They don’t seem to bham commbe satisfied with those limitations. That is one of the reasons that it is the church I attend. They aren’t satisfied.

Even if they aren’t satisfied, most of the decisions, effort and money go into perpetuating the attractional model.  It works and people get saved and some of them grow into functioning Christians who reproduce, usually after the atractional model.

We are really big on the small group thing.  Good idea, in my opinion.  One of the leadership types said, “We don’t want to be a church with small groups. We want to be a church of small groups!”  Props and kudos on all of that.  Still, it is based upon the attractional model which, like I said, is not bad and it works.

We hired a small group pastor. Some churches have a couple of full time, a few part time, and a few volunteers who try to recruit, train, equip and empower small groups to start.  The common model is to identify leaders inside the church, develop the concept of that  small group  to appeal to those inside the church, and then present the group to the church for attendance.  Again, this is all working.

I like the attractional model of church. I like going there and I like being there.  My church, like many others, have cool teachers who are exceptionally well equipped for teaching.  The music is great and the coffee is good. My kids love being in the well done kids programs.  Do you get it? I like attractional churches. I am a consumer at that level.

I also like the whole Jesus story a lot too.  I like it even more than I like church. I loved the way The Message has the phrase, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  That is what Jesus did. He became a flesh and blood man and moved into the neighborhood. That is what my attractional church is wanting to do too, but mostly they aren’t.  They hope that the small group model will do that, but mostly they don’t.  They want to move into the neighborhood but it eludes them. There is some success, some impact. They have enough success to feel like they are making progress but the overall impact on the neighborhood is minimal.  Of course they can’t do everything, but to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. OK, that is way cliche and I apologize.

I don’t have the answer, or at least an answer that I have tried and proven.  Actually I have some grass roots success at being in and part of a neighborhood, but I already wrote that  blog. I am not talking about me, but I think that there are a lot of me out there who could be more if there was a different way to thinking about how we get into the neighborhood and what success in ministry means.  Read my blog, Unintentional Discipleship or The Community Phenomena if you want.  No worries. I am amazed that someone even read this one. Before I forget; thank you!

I have a suggestion that I would like to drop into the ears of a few of the movers and shakers that I know that lead from clear hearts and conscienceless from inside the attractional church.  I do so from time to time when they lend me their ears as well as their hair in a fifteen minute segment or two.  I ask, “Why don’t we make the next couple of pastoral hires into neighborhood pastors?”  Each church that attracts is made up of people from multiple neighborhoods and the only way for our pastors to make a difference in our current model is for them to come to us.  Why not draw up a plan, scheme plot and pray, develop a job description and a hiring criteria that would send a pastor into the neighborhood. The rubric of success would be impact in that geographical community.  Perhaps rather than convening small groups from inside the church to draw people inside the church, this staffer could draw people inside the church into the community in which they live.  Perhaps they would spread community, Christ community, into a place where there has been a void, and find that small group attending the big church for the great things that it has to offer. Small groups of neighbors, who would walk to each others house to get together rather than drive across town or across counties.   Get neighbors together who live inside the dynamics of a neighborhood.

I really don’t have an answer, but I do wonder about this.  Our city of Bellingham has several identifiable communities who actually self identify as well. They have names like the Lettered Streets, The Colombia Neighborhood and so on.  Perhaps instead of a small group pastor we could hire a Lettered Streets pastor.  The resources of the attractional church would be an incredible asset to an old fashioned, parish minded individual.  I think that the capitol C church would grow. I think the neighborhood church would grow, and I am certain that the attractional church would grow.  All their work would be done within walking distance.

This isn’t all my idea. There are others who are very local ministry, parish ministry minded. They usually seem to be at odds with the attractional church.  They don’t enjoy it like I do.  They only see what they see as bad in that model, not the good and even great value there. I would like to see a combination of the two ideas.  The influence of the church is waning.  That is because with too many people there is only a superficial relationship.  Rather than hiring the best and brightest to stand in the picture window of our church and beckon, “Come hither.” we could go there and point the way. If we want to invest in community then our traditional view of small groups is not the answer.  Neighborhoods are.  Just my opinion/


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