Mr. Marvelous and I have been thinking and talking about community lately.
I don't know if it is just the season of life that we are in, or if it is something that people in general are missing. I think that a lot of our nostalgia and love of all things "vintage" is deep down a regret that we have changed from a culture of community to a culture of individuals. We tend to idealize (and possibly idolize) how things were back in the first half of the 20th century. We forget that there were bad things happening then because our focus is on the community. Sidewalks, picket fences, front porches where neighbors sat and visited, places where people knew one another and helped one another. We see those times as times when people cared enough about each other to rejoice together in the good times and the successes and cry together in the hard times. When we get done with our nostalgic reverie, we look around and realize that we just don't have that anymore. We mostly live in areas where the home is the fortress. You come home after work, shut the garage door behind you and the front door stays locked. After all, crime rates are increasing. Besides, you have been at work all day, the house is a mess and the family is tired and grumpy. You sure don't want the neighbors to see you like that! We don't realize a need for other people. If you run out of eggs you trot down to Walmart ~ they are open 24/7. No need for a visit either, you have a TV show or a movie to watch on your home entertainment system. How could a sunset or down-time on the front porch trump the latest episode of Duck Dynasty?! Yet somehow at the back of our hearts there is a niggling feeling that something somehow is missing somewhere.
Good community gives us strength and keeps us accountable. It gives us a connection and support. God created us to be in community, to depend on others for help and support and encouragement and love. He teaches us about the importance of the Body of Christ (i.e., the church) working together (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, etc.), meeting together and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Our culture seems to like what we call Mega-Churches. Over the years pastors, leaders, and church members have fallen victim to the numbers game. We are thrilled to see people discover Who God is and learn to serve Him. There is friendly, and sometime not-so-friendly rivalry between churches regarding attendance, membership, offerings, baptisms. If we are not careful it starts to revolve around the numbers, rather than God. We build bigger churches with programs that attract more people and assume that because of the numbers, these churches must be the most successful. The church with the most charismatic personality in the pulpit wins, because this brings more people. Sometimes a church finds a preacher who is on fire for the Truth of God's word. A man who challenges the congregation and even the city to focus on what GOD has to say from His word. Even then, at some point, the danger of focusing on the numbers begins to seep in.
When a church becomes a mega church it seems to lose community and pastoral care in direct proportion to the gain in numbers. As more and more people flock to the church, for whatever reason, the leadership is less and less able to take care of these people. How many families can one elder keep up with? How is it possible for one man to tend to the spiritual growth of 500? Knowing the names of these people and where they live is a huge challenge, how is he supposed to know the state of their spiritual walk and keep them accountable, guide and encourage them? Many churches have resorted to the Small Group model of ministry. They organize Bible studies that meet weekly and the leader of the group is responsible for the members in the group. If the leader needs assistance, he calls the elder placed over his small group and gets help from this elder (and what happens when a leader gets out of line with God? How does the elder keep up with where all his leaders are spiritually?). Let's do the math on this for just a moment. If a church has 3000 members and small groups are supposed to be no more than 10-12 people, that means a load of 300 small groups, even given the sad fact that many people will not be a part of a small group. How many elders are then required to lead/shepherd/care for that many groups? Ten? Thirty? Don't forget that the 3000 is members. That does not include folks who are "regular attenders" and want to be part of a small group, or the students and children who are not yet members of a church. So the actual number of groups is probably closer to 500. Then again, in a church that size, who really knows how many people there are? How many people come and go without ever really being noticed? How many members just fade away ~ even members who are part of a group ~ without anyone ever really noticing?
These are some things that we have been struggling with and trying to better understand. We aren't sure at this point where God is taking us. We'll be sharing the journey with you as we go.