I have been thinking a lot lately about Andy Stanley’s comments from a couple of years ago at the Group Life Conference 2009 and the implications for church ministry. If it is true that more learning, growth, care and ministry takes through transformational group-like circles, why do churches spend an inordinate amount of time, staffing and money on filling rows? Here are some possible reasons for expending so much energy on building a “row”-ing team, and I would be interested in your feedback.
Creating row-mentum: Is it that we believe filling the seats will create a catalytic experience that moves the masses to act?
Tell-a-vision: Is it about getting people aligned with what leadership is trying to do and clarifying church direction?
We-vangelism: Are we trying to create an attractional environment for members to bring people to hear a gospel presentation from an evangelist?
Gotta know when to enfold ‘em: Maybe it is the desire to connect the de-churched, re-churched and the “it’s-all-about-me”-churched, hoping they will find a home? (‘cause there are very few “unchurched” in America, and most places have not had such a person in a row for a long time—but they still “row”-manticize about having them there. Sorry, could not resist that!)
I have a truth ache: Is it because people love teaching more than learning? Is it that we enjoy hearing the old, old story more than facing the new, new reality of how far we are from real change?
I know the correct response is the “both-and” approach, large gatherings and smaller groupings. But it is so much more difficult to get people to form circles than it is to sit in rows. Just look at your percentages. So, because it is easier, we figure “let’s leverage the large gathering!” and put tons of resources into the 60-90 minutes of a church service.
Pastors spend 20-30 hours preparing, choirs and vocalists (paid and volunteer) practice for days, musicians rehearse, greeters are recruited, welcome teams and service hosts deployed, parking attendants and programming teams are organized, buildings are built—all culminating in an event. “It’s rowtime!”
I just wonder. I wonder what a church would look like if it re-allocated the staffing, energy, creativity, money, teaching and focus from event-making to disciple-making. If it equipped catalytic shepherd-leaders to connect people to transformational disciple-making environments (like groups and missional gatherings)—what would it look like? What if instead of thousands of people coming to sit and listen we had thousands of missional shepherd-guides moving out to serve and lead…people who make disciples…who make disciples? Maybe we could move from rowtime to growtime.
Just think of $50million invested in church-planting and the creation of hundreds—thousands—of missional groups and hubs throughout the city instead of one single building?
Sadly, many places will never find out. We are stuck in a paradigm lock. Yet I know many of you are experimenting with such expressions of the church. Many of you have been multiplying small communities that break into the culture – and you are less concerned with filling rows than you are with forming circles. And you are counting what counts. (See Reggie McNeal’s book Missional Renaissance for a great chapter on the church scorecard.)
Would love to know what you are discovering and how you are moving from an emphasis on mega-gatherings to many missional-connections. The multi-site movement is a big shift in this direction. But for sure there is a movement taking place—a shift from solitary, inflexible, hierarchical structures to clusters of missional groups, teams and gatherings that are bent on communal renovation. Churches where hundreds of leaders—not just a handful—use their gifts in the spirit of Colossians 3. Just maybe I will see this transformation across the North American church in my lifetime. And we will all be running in circles.