The Raw Church Movement: Community VS Privacy


Community VS Privacy
About two years ago I had to do a University project for the church I was working at. Part of the project involved interviewing members regarding different topics related to the church, including community. One answer captured the problem so well I will never forget it: "Relationships at this church end when we walk out the front door."

I remember reading that answer and thinking, ouch! But harsh as it sounds, its true. The majority of the churches I have attended fail miserably when it comes to community. It seems as if people are content with a private religion. When they come to church they only come for God - which is not a bad thing, but its also not a good thing. While the worship experience is about God in an ultimate sense, there is no denying the element of community. Pious as the proposition may be, church is not only about God and no one else (if that were the case, just worship at home!). Instead, church is about God and others.

A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:


Millenials Share their "Ideal" Church
Image by: Kah-Wai Lin

As you can see, the very first item on the list relates to community. A whopping 78% of those who were surveyed said they preferred a church that has community over a church that is private. But what exactly is community? Why is it missing from our churches? Why do millennials crave it so much? And how can the church move in the direction of community?

Community is a very simple concept that can be defined as "a group of people doing life together". Profound relationships, intimate connections, raw conversations and an authentic experience of "withness" are all elements that make community what it is. Community gives a sense of security and identity. It provides a strong foundation for people to embark on the often scary journey of faith that Jesus calls us to. Community helps us to belong.

Why is this missing from our churches? It's hard to say. I suspect the answer is complex, but the concept of individualism is what I would consider to be the main culprit.[1] Individualism is a predominantly western concept that basically states that the individual is supreme in life. In other words, nothing is more important than me. Anything beyond that is not really my concern. This concept of individualism leads us to invest our lives primarily in the pursuit of self-gain. Relationships are thus sacrificed at the altar of success. While such a worldview is perfectly in line with secular mentality, the oddity is that it has made its way into the church. What do you get when your churches are filled with people who are individualistic? The answer is simple: individuals who prefer a private religious experience to a communal one.

But the culture is beginning to change. Individualism has been exposed as the dry and lonely way of life that it is. As a result, it appears that younger generations are increasingly resistant toward it. Today, more than in recent times, people are craving real relationships. Millennials want to be a part of something, they want to do life with others. Sadly, when they come to church in search of this communal experience what they encounter is the individualistic culture that they are longing to escape. But the problem is worse than this for not only is the church individualistic but it pretends to be communal! People speak to you as if they care - and they do - but not enough to walk through life with you. There is a facade of community present in many churches. It feels like a family when you walk in, so you keep going hoping to eventually become a part of this family. But the longer you attend the clearer it becomes: there is no family. At best its a Sabbath morning club that repeats itself each weekend for a period of 1-4 hours and then its "see you next week". Visitors and members alike exit this place called church where they have just collectively worshiped God only to face six entire days of lonely warfare. They then reconnect the following weekend with shallow conversations that pretend everything is fine. Then they re-exit the church and are immediately confronted with another six days alone. How overwhelmingly tragic.

This is not what millennials want. In fact, I don't think any human being honestly wants this. It's terrible! But for some reason, this is what we have and we can't seem to break free from it. So what can we do to change our culture? How can we create community in our churches? While I don't know all the answers, here are some suggestions:


1. Confess: All change begins with admitting where we are. The first step is to admit that we are individualistic. Any attempt at justifying this must be rejected. We need to own our mistakes - even the unintentional ones.  
2. Repent: The next step is choosing to turn away from where one is currently headed. But we must do more than turn away. What we need is for God to give us the gift of repentance which includes sorrow for sin. We cant change by simply saying "bad idea. Sorry God." What we need is to experience true sorrow for what we have done. We need to hate individualism, not just dislike it. But this can only come from God. 
3. Believe: God alone can change us. We can't change ourselves. Individualism is so ingrained in our psyche we do it without noticing. We need a miracle to change and this God can do for us. Any ideas of self-help or self-improvement must be put away. God doesn't want to improve our churches. He wants to uproot them and plant something new. This cant be accomplished through human effort. It is by faith that we can experience this. 
4. Cooperate: God wants to do amazing things in our churches. Let's move out of the way and let him do his thing. This includes abandoning our comfort zones and being intentional about creating strategies to help foster a community culture. 
5. Repeat: The above process is not something we do once and move on with life. It needs to be constantly repeated even if we feel as though we have "arrived". We will never truly arrive and the battle to become a community focused church is an uphill, counter-cultural, battle. We need to constantly seek God for more grace to accomplish it.
Over the next few months I will be blogging on this, and other issues raised in the survey above. Through it all, I hope to give more practical strategies and methods that can help us turn our churches around. I call this process the Raw Church Movement meaning the pursuit of recapturing a vision of church in its most natural state. I hope the series gives lots to think about and engage in. But never forget, culture takes a long time to change. So don't be discouraged by slow movement.

Jesus to the culture,
Marcos
___________

[1] Individualism: Dominant feature of the Western societies that encourages individual freedom at the cost of traditional family ties and social cohesion, and stresses individual initiative. It relies on the belief that individual freedom forms the basis of entrepreneurial (capitalistic) culture which is the best guarantee of an ever expanding economy. [Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/individualism.html#ixzz3dI47YOuV]

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