How to Close the Gap Between Consumption and Community

Harvard professor Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, which has been called a landmark book by many sociologists. Written nearly twenty years ago, it has proven to be prophetic. Putnam’s book was based on research about the deterioration of community in American culture. He researched lots of community organizations and networks but the title comes from what he saw with bowling leagues. While more people were bowling over the previous fifteen years, participation in bowling leagues was greatly decreasing over the same period of time. There were more bowlers but fewer people bowling together. Instead of bowling in community, people were bowling alone. Putnam warned that the move toward isolation would ultimately hurt people and communities. Putnam issued his warning before restaurant booths would be filled with people staring at their iPhones instead of enjoying conversations with each other and before binge-watching Netflix would become common in our culture. The move to isolation has gotten easier for us since Putnam first lamented the decline of community. Netflix makes it hard to stop watching. You are already opted-in to keep watching. You have five very fast seconds to opt-out. Social media engineers work on algorithms to keep us staring at our phones.

Community is becoming more and more counter-cultural. What should a church do? If people can bowl alone, can they “church” alone? Do we embrace the cultural reality or do we push against it? We absolutely must push against the cultural reality of increasing isolationism and encourage believers to be in community.

While ministry leaders are wise to use the tools of the day (technology) to spread the message of Christ, ministry leaders must hold tightly to the communal nature of the Church. The word for Church in the Scripture is from the Greek word Ekklesia, which literally means “the called out ones” and was defined in the cultural context as “a gathering.” Church is plural. It is not alone. Church is a gathering of the “called out ones.” Because of this a church must not make consumption the goal, but believers in community and on mission the goal.

In the Old Testament, God’s people were commanded to worship in community. Notice the plural nature of the call to worship in Psalm 95:

  • Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord (v1).
  • Let us enter his presence with thanksgiving (v2).
  • Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lordour Maker (v6).

But it is not just “an Old Testament thing.” The writer of Hebrews captures the plural nature of our worship in Hebrews 10:

  • Let us draw near with a true heart (v22)
  • Let us hold to the confession (v23)
  • Let us watch out for one another and provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together (v24-25)

Is Eric about to bash “church online?” Is that what this is about? No, I am all for using the tools of the day to place the message of Christ in the context of the culture and people are increasingly online so we must place the message there. Just as believers used the printing press, television, and radio, we should use the tools of the day to place the message where people are. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, not classical Greek. It was placed “on the street” level of language and not above where people lived. But as we share the message, we must hold tightly to the communal nature of our faith, challenge people to be in community, and provide opportunities for them to do so. We must not equate isolated consumption with church.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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Why Minding Community is Better than Finding It

One of the great myths of relational life is that community is something found. In this fairy tale, community is simply out there – somewhere – waiting to be discovered like Prince Charming finding Cinderella. All you have to do is find the right person, join the right group, get the right job or become involved with the right church. It’s kind of an “Over the Rainbow” thing; it’s not here, so it must be over there.

Which is why so many people – and you’ve seen them and probably flirted with this yourself – go from relationship to relationship, city to city, job to job, church to church, looking for the community that they think is just around the corner if they could only find the right people and the right place. The idea is that real community exists somewhere and we simply must tap into it. It’s not something you have to work at; in fact, if you have to work at it, then you know it’s not real community.

This mindset runs rampant in our day. If you have to work at community in a marriage, you must not be right for each other. If you have to work on community where you are employed, you’ve got a bad boss or bad coworkers or a bad structure. If you have to work at community in a neighborhood, you just picked the wrong subdivision. If you have to work on things with people in a church, well, there are obviously just problems with the church or its leadership or… yep, its “community.”

I cannot stress enough how soundly unrealistic, much less unbiblical, this is. Community is not something you find; it’s something you build. What you long for isn’t about finding the right mate, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right church—it’s about making your marriage, making your workplace, making your neighborhood and making your church the community God intended. Community is not something discovered; it is something forged. I don’t mean to suggest any and all relationships are designed for, say, marriage. Or that there aren’t dysfunctional communities you should flee from. My point is that all relationships of worth are products of labor.

This is why the Bible talks about people needing to form and make communities, not just come together as a community or “experience” community. It’s why principles are given – at length – for how to work through conflict. It’s why communication skills are articulated in the Bible and issues such as anger are instructed to be dealt with. It’s why the dynamics of successfully living with someone in the context of a marriage or family are explored in depth. As the author of Hebrews puts it so plainly:

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet… run for it! Work at getting along with each other. (Hebrews 12:12-14, The Message)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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The Real Meaning of Community and Mission

My wife and I have a rugged wooden farm table. It’s not impressive—there are scratches, stains, and some cracks that make you wonder if it can even hold another plate. As a family of four, the table is probably too big for us. As a matter of fact, we don’t even have enough chairs to go around it so an old trunk that sits on iron cast wheels acts as a bench. Even though the table is bulky and awkward, it has become the most significant place in our house. It is our place of meeting. Around this simple piece of furniture we share stories, corny jokes, old memories, laughter and tears, joys and pain. Together we eat, pray, and live around this tattered table.

It’s rare that our family is the only one gathering around this table. Our kids love having others join us and are constantly asking the question, “Who’s coming over tonight?” Having others share a meal with us has become a regular rhythm in which we live. We are learning to view our home, and this farm table, as a means of advancing the gospel.

Through this God-ordained transition we have seen God transform our understanding of both community and mission.

COMMUNITY AND MISSION MEET

 Within the church, we tend to equate the word “mission” with a trip we take or a weekend project that we interact with on occasion. We are prone to define “community” as something that we experience through some type of Sunday program or home group bible study. Thankfully there is no need to separate community and mission. In the wisdom of God’s plan, these two critical aspects of the Christian life work in tandem. Jesus, in fact, prayed for this in John 17. He begs the Father “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). Jesus links the love that we have with one another with his mission to the world. As we grow in love for one another, the world will be drawn to saving faith.

Your city can be transformed when community and mission meet at the table. Your table can be more than a place that meals are shared—it can become the place where community and mission meet. Picture it: a table for the hurting, the lonely, the rich, the has-beens, the have-nots, the popular, the rebellious, and the self-righteous. Imagine God taking those gathered around your table and forming them together for the greatest mission they could ever join. This is His track record from Genesis to now. Community is more than a Sunday and mission is more than a trip.

The Christians mission involves you to bringing your friends who know Jesus into your home while intentionally and simultaneously inviting friends who do not yet know Christ. Set the table, serve the food, pray for God’s blessing, and watch Him do the work.

I believe that the Christian community and God’s mission go hand in hand. We must create the space for those who do not have the gospel to see the gospel put on display. Jesus said in John 13:35, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

 God has a divine meeting waiting on you—I invite you to pull up a seat at the table and experience life in community.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dustin Willis

Dustin Willis

Dustin Willis co-authored the book Life On Mission with Aaron Coe and is now following up with his second Moody Published book, Life In Community | Joining Together to Display the Gospel. Dustin's desire is to see everyday people join together in the history-sweeping mission of God. Dustin currently serves with the North American Mission Board and speaks across North America. Dustin earned his bachelor's degree in marketing from Clemson University and his master's degree from Liberty Theological Seminary. Dustin is a regular contributor at sendnetwork.com. Dustin lives in metro Atlanta, with his wife, Renie, and their two children, Jack and Piper.

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6 Moments to Engage Families in Small Groups

It happened again.

You just made the same small group announcement.
Sure, it happened on a different Sunday, during a different series. However, you just made that same hope-full announcement and received that same life-less response.
All across today’s church, leaders are saying more, yet somehow congregations are hearing less.

Every prop and trick lay used, relegated to a back-of-the-stage pile of ineffective effort. The funny videos made lots of people laugh, but no one dropped their carefully curated “perfect life” façade to live in heart-level relationships. The moving testimony video made plenty of people cry, but no one took that first, fear-fueled step into schedule-wrecking community.

Our best, most creative emphasis and announcement efforts bounce harmlessly off the Teflon-strong force field of the family calendar. For most in today’s church, a crisis-level lack of family engagement in groups boils down to this: the felt-need of life in community has yet to surpass the real-pain of an over scheduled life.

All of the church-speak generic “life together” reasons for “living in community”through “life groups” ring hollow as cul-de-sac gatherings, travel team parent bonding, and friends (with boating benefits) deftly imitate true and Gospel-centered relational connection.

After all, who needs yet another night away with yet another group of people?

We make the announcements but fail to articulate the value of community, especially with other people experiencing life-change. We promote the seasonal sign-ups, but neglect the most natural entry-points during life-stages.

Consider the many, fear-inducing moments of change and seasons of adjustment that every family experiences. Most are perfect opportunities to leverage the wisdom and comfort of community as a real and natural need to be a part of a group.

Here are six life-stage opportunities to expand engagement in small group life:

Newlywed / Engaged Couples. The first friends as a couple are typically life-long. Leverage premarital counseling and intensive wedding preparation seasons to focus young lovers on building depth of community into their marriage, not simply crafting Pinterest-worthy moments into a ceremony.

Expecting Parents. Parents-to-be, especially when it is their first child, are usually scared to death and more open to asking questions and being influenced by parents who have “been there, done that.” Working together, the preschool minister and groups leader have a natural opportunity to encourage and resource parents into group life.

Baby Dedication. More than preparing for a Sunday moment, this is a natural time to gather families in a small-group environment as a prerequisite to participation. Gather new parents to discuss a book or parenting bible study for 4-6 weeks before the Sunday morning ceremony. Church leaders can reinforce gathering in a home as more important than standing on a stage, and see those groups continue for years.

Kindergarten / Grade School. The tear-filled eyes of parents driving away from the campus after dropping their “couldn’t possibly be this old already” child at school are indications of shared emotions. They are also likely indications of an openness to prioritize time with other parents wiping their eyes as well. Giving parents a place to do more than cope or commiserate, groups in this life stage encourage connection and iron sharpening. Start the conversation by introducing parents to the children’s ministry while at the same time introducing them to other parents just as scared and hopeful as they are.

Middle / High School. Puberty, dating and social media… enough said. Parents with children entering middle school or high school need help, and quickly. As your next group of youth age-up into the student ministry, do more than just meet with parents and talk at them. Make it a goal to get those parents talking to each other and finding common ground together. Convene a round table on important topics, and spin off discussion groups that can grow into meaningful small groups or bible study classes.

College / Empty Nest. The last 18+ years have been spent focused on successfully getting their children out of the nest, and prayerfully staying out. Now these suddenly purposeless parents struggle to reconnect and establish the new normal once their baby birds finally fly off. Graduation Sundays offer a great chance to celebrate each student, but also a great connection with the parents wondering “what’s next.” What if leaders offered one or two strategic gatherings over the summer to prepare parents for this new normal, all the while pointing to a Fall season of group life?

Families in your church are physically, emotionally, and spiritually right where you have led them to be… in groups and not.

Now is the time to stop thinking about small groups in ways that work on a ministry calendar or for a pastoral preference.

Now is the time to start engaging families during the seasons and moments in life that actually matter to them.

Now is the time to truly engage people in meaningful Gospel-centered community, not just make that same small group announcement.


Learn more about engaging people in a Gospel-centered community: Connect with an Auxano Navigator.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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2 Keys for Doing Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in The Cost of Discipleship, states, “On two separate occasions Peter received the call ‘Follow me.’ It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to His disciple. A whole life lies between these two calls.”

Could it be possible that those two simple, yet profound words hold the key for pastors who are desperately seeking solutions to overcome the dismal state of discipleship in their churches?

The call to Peter – and to other disciples – is one of single-minded obedience. Jesus was asking them – and us – to rely on Christ’s word – the Word of God Himself.

One solution to your discipleship problem?

Doing life together with spiritual depth yet practical wisdom.

THE QUICK SUMMARYThe Irresistible Community, by Bill Donahue

We all want a place where our stories matter, our voices are heard, our uniqueness is celebrated, our failures are embraced, and our hopes are unleashed. That kind of deep, life-changing community was modeled perfectly by Jesus and the ragged bunch of disciples with whom He chose to spend His time. But how can we create it in our lives?

Using the relationship of Jesus to His disciples in the upper room, Bill Donahue presents a simple but compelling approach to community life that was modeled by Jesus and offered to us all today. Using a table, a towel, and the truth, Jesus created an “irresistible community” where everyone finds a place to belong, live fully in the truth, and serve others with joy.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

In that upper room long ago at the beginning of the Passover celebration, Jesus set the stage for a whole new experience, not only for the disciples then but also for us now. The disciples didn’t know what they were in for, as Jesus fulfilled the role not only of host by also of servant.

If we enter the upper room at the invitation of Jesus, and experience fellowship with Him, we are receiving an irresistible invitation to experience abundant life in His name.

The Messiah is on a high-stakes mission, nothing like the one the disciples have envisioned. Jesus uses three common elements – a table, a towel, and the truth – and promises to change the world.

In the moments of the Last Supper, Jesus used some very common objects to communicate some very profound mysteries concerning the kingdom of God.

The first is a table. So common were tables that people hardly noticed them beyond their basic function as a workbench, a storage facility, or a feeding station. But not after tonight. Tonight the table will become something remarkable. They will never think of a table the same way again. And neither will you.

The second is a towel. In a surprising gesture of humility, Jesus will pick up a towel, unmask their self-indulgent thinking, and call them to a radical expression of greatness unlike any the world has seen. From this moment on, whenever they see a common household towel, they will remember. And so will you.

The third, while not an object per se, is the truth. In the ancient world, itinerant speakers competed for an audience, passing the hat for a few shekels to feed their families. In an era void of television, the internet, coffee shops, and movie theaters, public speakers provided a major form of entertainment and education for a largely illiterate, agrarian culture. Expressions of “truth” were common – but not Jesus’ kind of truth. While everyone is yawning at the remarks of yet another soothsayer, Jesus’ words awaken the slumbering masses with authority, power, intrigue, mystery and often bone-crushing reality.

Bill Donahue, The Irresistible Community 

A NEXT STEP

The metaphor of the table is a perfect place to begin seeking authentic Christian community. After all, Jesus was a table builder – first literally as a carpenter, and then spiritually as the Son of God.

Start your table journey by making a regular practice to gather around the table that matters most – your family table. Yes, the role of pastor is a demanding job, but how can you consider your role as pastor successful if you neglect your family? Do you have a regular pattern of eating at least one meal a day at home, around your table, with your family? If you do, what do you talk about? Make sure that you are investing the best part of the conversation not in what you are doing or what you accomplished, but in listening to the stories from your family.

Extend your table journey by making it a weekly habit to gather around a table – for a coffee break or a meal – with your staff team. Make sure this table time is not an extension of staff meetings, but a time for everyone to talk and listen to stories about each other’s lives and families outside of your church setting. Listen as they share family joys and concerns, and encourage your team to extend this table talk beyond the work setting to each other’s homes.

Create a new table journey by establishing a routine of getting outside the office regularly, establishing a pattern of spending time at a coffee shop at the same time and day each week. Notice first the staff, and begin to develop a relationship with each of them. Listen and encourage them by your actions and your words. Next, begin to notice others around you, and look for individuals who seem to have a pattern of being there at the same time as you. Reach out to them, and connect with their life story by first sharing yours.

Table life can be flexible, creative, and dynamic. Over time, people around the table may change as they come and go in your life. But the invitation to be a part of the table can be a life-altering experience.

Excerpted from SUMS Remix 36-1, March 2016


 

This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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Lead Your Church to Community Activity Not Congregational Attendance

Below is a new weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 


Solution #3: Call the church to partner in missional, community activity not simply congregational, service attendance.

THE QUICK SUMMARY- Kingdom Come, by Reggie McNeal

There’s a reason Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come . . .” and not “Thy church come.”

The church clearly plays an important role in God’s plans. It was established by Christ, and He is its Head. But have we put too much emphasis on the church? Have we confused a means of participating in God’s Kingdom with the Kingdom itself?

In Kingdom Come, church ministry consultant Reggie McNeal reveals why it’s crucial to realign the church’s mission with God’s ultimate Kingdom agenda. You’ll discover how you can get in on―and help lead―the Kingdom movement currently underway.

Join the mission to help the Kingdom break into our hearts…and break out into the world.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

While God’s mission in the world has not changed, in many churches today the idea of serving God has morphed into “becoming a good church member.” People are considered disciples based on their faithful support and participation in church activities, not necessarily on whether they are growing toward or reflecting the heart of Jesus for others and the world.

How do you remind people in your particular church culture that they are sent from God as missionaries everywhere, and every day? What words do you use to enlarge their imagination and ignite their heart for a redemptive mission focus?

Jesus did not establish the church to start a new religion called Christianity. He established the church as an expression of the Kingdom for the people of God as they partner with Him in His redemptive mission in the world.

Three critical shifts are necessary in order to synchronize the church’s story with the Kingdom.

We must recognize that God established the church to point to the Kingdom, not the other way around. We shouldn’t be trying to promote the church; we should be trying to raise awareness of the Kingdom. A Kingdom-focused approach would involve lots of listening and local input and would be conducted from a posture of quiet service rather than trying to send a “we’re here to bless you” message, which can seem self-serving.

A Kingdom-focused church operates from a conviction that God is already at work in the city. It would raise awareness that God wants the city to prosper and that, as God’s people, we want to help. God would be the star of the show, and His will that the Kingdom come on earth would be the main message.

We must acknowledge that the Kingdom, not the church, is the destination. The church is not the destination, and it’s not the point of the journey. It’s the life of the Kingdom that we’re trying to get to. That’s what people are after.

We need churches that are dedicated to the objective of helping people grow up in the faith, so they can live on mission in the world, to see their lives as a mission trip. If we rightly understand that the Kingdom is the destination, we will figure out ways to celebrate spiritual progress on the journey that leads people to full deployment as Kingdom agents.

We must realize that the Kingdom saga focuses primarily on the welfare of the community, not on the church. A Kingdom perspective means that the cues for authentic church celebration comes from the quality of life that people experience in the world, beyond the church.

Much of the time and energy and money we have put into developing our incredible church campuses and program offerings should have gone into improving our communities. I’m suggesting that we recalibrate our efforts and resources to reinvest in the welfare of our towns, cities, and neighborhoods.

– Reggie McNeal, Kingdom Come

A NEXT STEP

Schedule time with your team to prayerfully consider the degree of church-focus and Kingdom-focus each ministry or program of your church might have. It is recommended that you break this important discussion down into a series of three 75-minute action-oriented discussion sessions over three weeks.

Session 1 – Actions to help recognize that God established the church to point to the Kingdom, not the other way around

Church leaders whose priority is to build the church are not functioning in proper alignment with the mission of God. At the first of this series of team meetings, list your church’s major activities on the left side of a chart tablet. At the top of the chart, create two columns, entitling them “Church-Focused” and “Kingdom-Focused.” As a team, read down the list and agree on which column the activity falls under, placing an X in that column.

After completing the entire list, spend time brainstorming specific actions that would help move the activity from the church-focused column to the Kingdom-focused column. If an activity cannot be moved into the Kingdom-focused column, discuss the future of that activity.

Following this session, assign an individual to lead a team to further develop the concepts and actions needed to move the activity into the Kingdom-focused column. Make sure each team reports regularly to the senior leadership team.

Session 2 – Actions to help acknowledge that the Kingdom, not the church, is the destination

Is it time for you to get outside more?

At your second team meeting in this series, brainstorm as a team ways each member can get beyond the four walls of your church. By connecting with and becoming involved with community events such as participating in a health club or coaching a sports team, you will be amazed at your discoveries.

Set aside culturally driven leadership impulses for a quick-fix solution, and take the long view of health. After a six-month season of team involvement in these types of activities, have each member bring their observations back to the team for discussion and action. The focus is on how you can rethink and redesign your current church ministry programs to reflect a Kingdom bias.

As you begin to develop ideas for potential implementation, assign a team member to lead each activity and report back to the team on its progress.

Session 3 – Actions to help realize that the Kingdom saga focuses primarily on the welfare of the community, not on the church

A Kingdom-centered narrative focuses on how to be the church in the world. Issues for Kingdom-leaders are fundamentally different from those leading the institutional church.

In order to help your team change the focus to the community, you will need collaborators to provide support, generate new ideas, and serve as a catalyst to help your church move forward.

At your final team meeting in this series, discuss ways to discover and invite other people who “get” the Kingdom focus. Begin the discussion by brainstorming what types of Kingdom agenda items resonate with community groups.

Start new conversations with community leaders who are connected with these types of activities. Invite them to speak to your team about the possibilities of working together.

As a team, agree on specific courses of action that will help your focus shift to the community and not your church. Be sure that every action has an identified leader and timeframe for moving forward.

Vibrant churches look after the interests of others – starting with their neighbors across the street and around the block. They are involved in community concerns by supporting, if not actually leading, initiatives.

Thriving churches have open doors – open to each and every segment of their community.

To learn more about being involved in your community, start a conversation with the Auxano team today.

Taken from SUMS Remix 21-3, published August 2015


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 

Clarity Process

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Vibrant Community: The Secret DNA of Every Church

Brands like Apple, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines understand that the thing that makes an organization great is the vibrant and passionate community it creates. It doesn’t just happen. It is intentionally cultivated. Apple didn’t get lucky because one day people decided to wait for days to buy the new iPhone. Southwest’s founder, Herb Kellerher, realized that creating a vibrant culture is something his organization had to focus on every day.

The good news for church leaders is you have the opportunity to create the same type of vibrant culture these organizations have created, if not a stronger one. But as every church leader knows, it’s not that easy.

Vibrant community: The secret DNA of every church

A few weeks ago, Church Community Builder had the opportunity to host Aaron Fortner, an expert in city planning and community building, as part of our webinar series. During the webinar, Aaron explained the fundamental principles of vibrant communities and how churches can go about creating them

If you want to build the type of vibrant community in your church that creates a multiplying effect outside the walls, here are seven things you need to know:

  • Community is a verb. Most churches think of community as a noun. They think that just because they plug people into a small group, there’s community. However, community is a dynamic movement. It doesn’t just happen because your church builds a place for it. It takes intentionality to lead people into community through action.
  • Vibrant church communities connect people to people, not just to the church itself. When the church is ineffective, it is a crowd of people meeting together on a regular basis. When effective, it is a tribe of believers that is connected to a vision that is bigger than themselves.
  • Vibrant communities have a singular focus with widespread reach. The vision and goal of vibrant communities should always simple and easy to understand. At the same time, the focus needs to resonate with a lot of people in order for the community to grow.
  • If you want your church to become a vibrant community, you must be fiercely consistent and pleasantly surprising. Consistency builds trust in your community. Your members can believe that you’re going to do the things you say you’re going to do. At the same time, consistency can become boring. That’s why it’s equally important always look for ways to challenge the status quo and surprise your community.
  • If you don’t get your community strategy right, the things you’re doing won’t last. your community-building efforts should always invite people into something that’s bigger than themselves. That’s the end goal. If you don’t focus on that, the things you’re doing won’t last.

Everything your church does, from discipleship to outreach, depends on the vitality of the community among your members. If you want a deeper look into how your church can create the type of vibrant community that your neighborhood or city notices, we’ve recorded the entire webinar here.

What is your church doing to create a vibrant community that transcends even the most popular brands?

Read more from Steve Caton here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Caton

Steve Caton

Steve Caton is part of the Leadership Team at Church Community Builder. He leverages a unique background in technology, fundraising and church leadership to help local churches decentralize their processes and equip their people to be disciple makers. Steve is a contributing author on a number of websites, including the Vision Room, ChurchTech Today, Innovate for Jesus and the popular Church Community Builder Blog. He also co-wrote the eBook “Getting Disciple Making Right”. While technology is what Steve does on a daily basis, impacting and influencing the local church is what really matters to him……as well as enjoying deep Colorado powder with his wife and two sons!

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Moving Toward a Counter-Cultural Community, Part 2: Community Idolatry

In the first post, I talked about 11 different aspects of society used a filters or barriers to form or foster community. I argued, “In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation?” If part one addresses the external schema of society formation, this post addresses the internal driving forces influencing how and where we fall out in our version of societal segregation.

Dick Keyes, in his chapter “The Idol Factory” (in No God but God) takes about the construction of idols in our lives. He makes the distinction between “near” and “far” idols. Near idols are those that are more specific, superficial and concrete, such as career, spouse, possessions, etc. Far idols, on the other hand, are “farther” from the surface of things and go to the root of why we do what we do. They get to the “sin beneath the sin” and are also referred to as “source” or “root” idols.

Far idols get to our motivational drives and function as basic controlling principles that, unless confronted and challenged by the gospel, will manifest in many outward forms. The four basic “source” idols are power, comfort, approval, and control (there are others, but I will refer to these main four in this post). Here’s what they say:

Power idolatry says: “Life only has meaning /I only have worth if‐‐I have power and influence over others.
Approval idolatry says: “Life only has meaning /I only have worth if‐‐I am loved and respected by _______________
Comfort idolatry says: “Life only has meaning /I only have worth if‐‐I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.”
Control idolatry says: “Life only has meaning /I only have worth if‐‐I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of ___________________.”

John Calvin says the human heart is a factory of idols. Tim Keller argues that idolatry is always the reason we do anything wrong. Paul Tripp agrees, saying that sin is fundamentally idolatrous. So what is the connection, then, with source idolatry and being a counter-cultural community?

Idolatry-Centered Community

Because idolatry is the sin beneath the sin, the motivational fruit for the behavioral fruit of our choices, it stands to reason that a counter-cultural community will come to terms with the idolatry-centered nature of secular society. The societal segregation I explained in part one is fueled by the idolatrous desires of sinful people–a people seeking that ideal community who not only accept but also appreciate one’s idolatry. If at any point idolatrous cravings are not satisfied by a compliant community, there will be a reconstitution of that community in rejection to their nonconformity.

The five components of idolatry-centered community are: (1) self-serving, (2) comfort-securing, (3) pride-protecting, (4) approval-demanding, and (5) control-promoting. In every expression of community building outside of Christ, these components of source idolatry will shape and govern the community dynamic. It is precisely at these points the idolatry-centered community must be challenged by the gospel (more on that later).

Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we look to have relationships that feed our community idolatry. Why do we filter people out and create barriers to keep others out? Is it not because we are self-serving and comfort-securing? Why do we build a community of people most like us? Is it not because we are approval-demanding and control-promoting?

These “far” idols are also connected to our “near” idols–the more specific, concrete manifestations of idolatry. We are “driven” by the near idols of time (manifested in busyness), money (manifested in consumerism), and space (manifested in individualism), and the root case of these can be unearthed by detecting their relationship to the source idols of comfort, power, approval, and control.

When people say they do not have time for meaningful relationships due to their busy schedule, they have made an idol out of time (squeezing everyone out but themselves). When people treat others are commodities (goods and services) in a consumeristic fashion, they have made an idol out of money. When people intentionally keep others out and demand autonomous living, they have made an idol out of space. All of these “near idols” are driving forces behind the societal segregation (just like “far idols”).

At the heart of the idolatry-centered community is the attempt of enjoying the “ideal” community apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this broken world where the most fundamental and necessary relationship (with God) is rejected, community becomes a functional savior and “god-replacement” in ways it was never intended. Therefore, the irony of idolatry-centered community is that it can never deliver on the idolator’s idealized dream of community.

In part 3, I will provide an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in which he argues the Christianized attempt of idealizing (idolizing) community apart from Jesus actually destroys community.

Read Part 1 here.

Read more from Timmy here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timmy Brister

In the “real world,” I am the founder and president of Gospel Systems, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on creating and sustaining delivery systems for the advancement of the gospel around the world. In 2010, I started a delivery system called PLNTD – a network for church planting and revitalization focusing on resourcing, relational community, residencies in local churches, and regional networks. In 2012, I started an international delivery system call The Haiti Collective which focuses on equipping indigenous churches through church partnerships in order to care for orphans, make disciples, train leaders, and plant churches in Haiti. In addition to serving as the executive director of these organizations, I have served for 12 years in pastoral ministry with churches in Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida. My passion is to see healthy, growing churches take ownership of the Great Commission to the end that disciples are making disciples, leaders are developed and deployed, and churches are planting churches here and around the world. This is the driving passion of my life and prayer that God would be so glorified in making His name great in our generation.

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7 Ways to Love Your Community

Church leaders should love their churches where they are now, not where they wish their congregations could be in the future. That’s a given, or at least should be. But what about the community? Church leaders should love their communities as much as their churches. Granted, some churches are easier to love than others, and some communities are easier to love than others. A calling to a place, however, requires a love for that place.

One of the pitfalls of church leadership involves the call to a new place—a location in which the new minister has little knowledge. Some of us grow up living in a number of different places. My family moved every three years or so when I was a child, and I’ve pastored from Florida to Indiana. But even if you have experienced several transitions, a new place of ministry can prompt infatuation or disdain with the community.

Infatuation occurs when you feel like the new location is more exotic: big city, rural community, beachside, in the mountains—whatever excites you more than your current location. But infatuation quickly fades as you settle into a routine. Disdain occurs when you feel like the new community does not provide what your previous community offered. And disdain can stick with you. Whether you’re infatuated or disappointed with the location of your ministry, you must learn to love your new community in the same way you learn to love a new congregation. Love for a congregation mismatched with disdain for a community will cause you to retreat in an unhealthy church bubble. Either you will lead your congregation inward, or they will (rightly) question your bitterness and lack of outward focus.

What are some ways church leaders can learn to love their communities?

  1. Don’t go home. If you’re jumping at every opportunity, or fabricating lame excuses, to get back home, then your heart is clearly not in the community. God calls church leaders to minister in a place. If you’re looking for every chance to leave that place, then you’re not being a good gospel ambassador.
  2. Join in the fun. Every community has unique ways (or occasions) it celebrates. Jump in and contribute to the celebration. Only the most hardened of curmudgeons can hang on to bitterness when everyone around them is having fun.
  3. Live with the people. Don’t move to the outskirts, away from the people. Live in the heart of your community. Your home is not a retreat from ministry; it is a crucial tool in ministry
  4. Stop complaining. It’s difficult to grow a church when you’re gaining a reputation as the town killjoy.
  5. Stay active. Be on the go in your community. Sedentariness exacerbates loneliness, frustration, displeasure.
  6. Join a civic organization. Be a leader beyond your church. When the community (in addition to your church) is looking to you for leadership, then you are obligated to create a positive outlook for everyone.
  7. Try something new on a regular basis. Break the routine. Go to different restaurants. Travel different roads. Attend a new festival. Hang out with a different crowd. It’s difficult to harbor negativity when you’re excited about trying something new.

I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you have any ideas about how church leaders can learn to love their communities?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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Dave Shrein — 08/08/13 9:28 pm

Sam, loved this. Just got back from day 1 of the willow creek association global leadership summit and completely agree with this for leaders! Well said.

Mike Hill — 08/06/13 1:59 pm

I think any planter who is willing to move closer to the people he wants to reach is the real deal. I'm talking about residency. I really like the idea of being involved in civic leadership and doing non ministry related projects of goodwill in your community.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
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7 Ways to Keep Community at the Core of Your Church

I had the privilege of being with some great yet humble pastoral leaders last week at a forum in Atlanta. These 22 men and women are responsible for creating a climate where group life and effective teams can flourish in and through the life of the local church. Some world-renown churches were represented (Saddleback, LifeChurch, North Point) and some lesser known communities (Westridge, Sojourn, and Southridge in Canada) rounded out the list.

Church size, personal popularity, resources published, ministry longevity or the level of creativity were not the factors that made these leaders or their churches “great” in my eyes. Rather, they were successful because they maintained a relentless commitment to becoming a church with community at the core of everything they do.

Why? Because they knew and believed there is no discipleship without relationship! There can be no mass disciple-making using events and programs. Yes, you can create more followers with creative events, spectacular services and dynamic speakers. But you cannot make disciples.

As I listened to these friends and fellow leaders, it was clear that communal life and how it can change the world was truly at the center. It was not an afterthought, an add-on to be considered after focusing on fundraising, events, services, classes, programs and activities. I long for that kind of church.

But to be a place where community is at the core you must first believe that it really belongs there, where God put it and where Jesus lived it. And you must build everything around it. The heart of the gospel is community – the message that the God who lives in community came to restore community with his people through the life, death and resurrection of his son. (John 17:21)

How do we Become a Place with Community at the Core?

Here are some of the key insights that these leaders shared or that I took away as we engaged deeply about what it means for community to be central to the core of a church to catalyze spiritual growth and maximize world impact.

  • Strategy Matters: Organic growth is cool and new experiments are essential, but at the end of the day you need a cohesive, coherent strategy for building community life. It must not be so rigid as to inhibit innovation, nor so loose as to create unmanageable chaos. But you need one – missional groups, meta-church, life transformation groups, mid-sized communities…the models vary but not the need for a unified, cohesive strategy. And be careful not to over-program. The emerging discussion about Missional Communities was very provocative.
  • Clarity is King: Why do we do groups? What is our desired outcome? How do people get connected? Where do we find emerging leaders and how do we equip them? There are many questions and problems to solve, and most of them are complex or require real effort. But if you are committed to achieving clarity, you have most of the problem solved already. See Stanley on this.
  • Culture-Transformation is our Mission. Many Christians either attack the culture or run from it. But we are not called to build a community of navel gazers, obsessed with promoting an insulated, fortress mentality. People are lost, hurting, lonely, fear-filled, poor, hungry, homeless, hopeless, friendless, oppressed, unemployed, wounded and sick. We build community to strengthen the body AND enter the culture with a Luke 4 mindset. In God’s power we are setting captives free, bringing sight to the spiritually blind, offering good news and hope to the poor, and shouting out “God’s favor has come!”
  • Stories Stir the Soul: Listening to the stories of others and telling our story is a powerful way to connect people and build relationships with those outside our circle. Then we can connect our stories to God’s story.
  • Metrics Motivate the Mind: You get what you measure, but you cannot gauge progress without some markers. Without measurement there is no management. Plan to measure qualitative and quantitative growth, getting feedback so that you can focus your training and development of people.
  • Leaders Make a Big Difference: We all advocate the vision of shared ministry, mutual use of gifts, empowering one another to serve, and taking ownership of ministry at every level. But we also know that quality, committed leadership matters.  We want a flatter kind of church structure, and we know that leaders themselves have a big role in making that happen. We have to give more away, take more risks, allow others to fail, and be the first to work ourselves out of a job. See my post about your leadership.
  • The Good News is the Best News: We affirmed our commitment to the gospel-story of Jesus, teaching His way of being with people, loving others, living a sacrificial life, redeeming us from sin and shame, and putting us on a new path toward abundant life.

I was so proud to be in the room with such an amazing group of servants whose hearts are tender, minds are sharp, and souls long for real change. And who can laugh at themselves (and one another!) in a way that is simply pure joy.

Questions to consider:

  • With whom do you gather for this kind of inspiration?
  • Where do you get real interaction and thought-provoking conversation?
  • Where do you discover fresh ideas and see strategies that actually work in real life?  Not just more speakers and content and information – but real engagement about life and ministry issues that produces lasting change?
 Read more from Bill here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Donahue

Bill’s vision is: “Resourcing life-changing leaders for world-changing influence.” Leaders and their teams need a clear personal vision and a transformational team strategy. This requires work in 3 key areas: Maximize Leadership Capacity, Sharpen Mission Clarity & Build Transformational Community. Bill has leadership experience in both the for-profit and non-profit arena. After working for P&G in New York and PNC Corp. in Philadelphia, Bill was Director of Leader Development & Group Life for the Willow Creek Church & Association where he created leadership strategies and events for over 10,000 leaders on 6 continents in over 30 countries.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.