By Tim Chester, reprinted from his blog under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Missional community life and everyday church requires a certain level of proximity. I’ve had a lot of questions on this issue, especially when I’ve been in the United States. Let’s take a church I spent some time with in New Jersey as an example. They have people living half an hour drive from the church building in one direction and half an hour drive in the other direction. So some people live an hour away from each other. How are they going to share their lives?
1. Join or plant local churches
I wonder how many churches people pass as they drive half an hour to church each Sunday. Some will be dead and ready for burial. But many will be good churches. They may not be as good as the church people attend. But they may be faithful and engaged in their locality. Why do people do this?
It reflects a consumer mentality. We shop for churches like we shop for groceries. If we don’t like the product then we take our business elsewhere. We end up at the big convenience store with the large parking lot and the local shops in Main Street that the old and the poor have to use wither and decline.
A particular instance of the consumer mentality, but a very common one is this. If church doesn’t have a big children’s programme then we find another church. Who’s going to say we shouldn’t out our children’s spiritual needs first? Me! A lot of Christians have made an idol of their families. So it becomes an excuse not to do mission or community. Look at what Jesus has to say about biological families. It is all negative! Really, it is. ‘Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37). That’s what Jesus said. Get over it. And think about what moving church for children teaches our children. That the world revolves around them. That church is there to entertain them. That relationships with peers matter more than relationships with people who unlike them. At best you will teach you children to be church-attenders. You will have missed a big opportunity to teach them to be radical disciples and missionaries.
2. Move closer to one another
Come back to our church in New Jersey. One of the members lives in a neighbourhood of homes, fairly well defined. It centres around a lake. There is a strong sense of neighbourhood, an active residents’ association, regular community events. This Christian family are getting to know their neighbours and last year they ran a backyard Bible school. Imagine if two other families moved into that neighbourhood with perhaps a single person living with one of the families. Now you have a team of seven, attending the church each Sunday, but then working together to reach that neighbourhood. Building relationships with neighbours. Getting involved in the residents’ association. Praying together. Sharing their lives. Involving unbelievers in their shared life. In time holding Bible studies. Dynamite!
There are six or seven households represented in the gospel community to which I belong back in Sheffield. All but one of those intentionally moved to be in that area, to reach that area together, to be community. With one exception, we all live within ten minutes walk of each other. Sharing lives is easy! The weekend before I came to the States, one family send a text round saying anyone is welcome to watch our equivalent of American Idol with them. You all watch American Idol – go on admit it. So why not watch it together? It’s a lot more fun!
3. Jump in the car
Again, come back to our church in New Jersey. Some members lives one hour from each other. But of course they are all spread out across the area. So in fact most of them live within ten minutes of several other members. So why not cluster together with those who are near? Ten minutes is not far.
I live in an urban area. If you said someone lived ten minutes away then everyone would assume you meant ten minutes walk. Maine is clearly far more rural. Your state is roughly the same size as my country with the population of my city! But that shapes your pattern of life. It shapes the way people think about community and neighbourhood. In Sheffield 20 minutes feels like a long way away. But here you travel 20 minutes to get your groceries. So 20 minutes is near. You make that kind of journey several times a week. So why not jump in the car and pop over to see someone? Why not call and say, ‘We’re about to watch American Idol. Why don’t you come over and watch it with us?’
If you can drive 20 minutes to Walmart, why can’t you drive 20 minutes to share life with members of your Christian community?