Monday, August 22, 2016


Thom Rainer posted an article on Four Types of Churches That Will Soon Die. He includes in that list the “ex-community church.” It reminded me of some of these farm churches that began within riding distance of four or five farms. Since families were large, it was easy for them to reach fifty in attendance from just those few families and then there may have been others who came from a little farther out. Now, communities are in towns that may be five to ten miles away from the church building and there may be ten people meeting in the building. It isn’t just that the church doesn’t look like the community, the church isn’t even in the community.

But I’m a member of a church in a large city. There is no shortage of people who are living around the church building. 50,000 people are within easy walking distance. The irony is that with that many people right around the church, there is no sense of community. In a small town, you go to the grocery store and you may know the teenager at the checkout counter by name. You may know who his parents are. You stop to buy gas and you see your neighbor, or your cousin, or someone you went to high school with, and you don’t think anything about it. But in Fort Worth, it is rare for me to see someone I know. It does happen, but it is rare. When you look at those people right around our church, there’s little to tie them together, other than the fact that they live near each other. They sleep there at night, but during the day, they drive off in different directions to go to work. The people they work with are more of a community than the people who live on their street.

We might need to say that this is the way it is and focus our attention on the world as it is. I know it sounds better for preachers to talk about people not being willing to walk across the street to share the gospel, but the people across the street aren’t our community. It is easier for us to share the gospel with people at our place of employment than it is with the people across the street, and that even if we stay within our employer’s limitations on such things.

On the other hand, maybe this doesn’t have to be the way it is. Having communities that have no sense of community isn’t a good thing. People need community. Instead of trying to figure out how to reach a community that isn’t a real community, maybe churches should be working to create these communities. When you think about it, there are only a couple of places in urban communities where people who live near each other spend time together, the local schools, and the local churches. Everything else takes place outside of the community.

Pie in the Sky

If I had unlimited resources, what I would want to do in a community is to build a church building right in the middle of it. Also in the center, I would stores and restaurants and green space. Moving out from there, I would want housing. Outside of that would be employers of some kind. But everything would be in walking distance. Parking on the street would require people to pay a fee, encouraging people to either walk or ride a bicycle to get where they are going. Because this community spends more time outside walking or cycling, rather than in cars and houses, people will have more opportunities to speak to each other and the sense of community develops.

Back to Reality

Even though some churches build buildings that look more like a shopping mall than a church building, no church has the ability to completely restructure a community. Even if we could, there’s no guarantee that people would choose to live there. But maybe we can take that concept and work within the situation we have. To begin with, the location of the building is important. If people don’t have easy access to the building, move. But it isn’t the location of the building that creates community.

Become the Community Center

Community is created when people spend time with the same people, frequently. It may seem like sacrilege to say this, but maybe churches need to hold some events that have nothing to do with sharing the gospel or inviting people to church. Easter Egg hunts and Trunk-a-Treat is a good place to start, but that’s only two things a year and they require people to have children. There’s no reason a church couldn’t offer more community events, with the main goal of building community. If someone happened to get saved, that would be great too.

Become the Well

There are churches that are named “The Well” but I wonder how many actually are. In the Bible, we have a story of Jesus stopping to rest at a well, while his disciples went to buy food. As you recall, this was where he encountered the Samaritan woman. One of the things about the Pie in the Sky community I described is that people walk and ride bicycles, giving them more opportunities to talk to their neighbors. You don’t give it much thought when you’re in a car, but when you’re walking or on a bicycle, there are some things you would like to find along your route. You want to find a water fountain, just in case your water bottle runs low, or you forgot to bring it. You want to find a restroom, even if it is nothing but a port-a-potty. Where you find one, you want to find a bike rack, because you don’t want someone messing with your bike while your pants are down. A little shade is nice. And if a bike pump is available and some tools you can use to work on your bike, you’ve found a place where you will stop. If a church would provide these things, even if all they provided is an outdoor water fountain, they would become a well to the people riding or walking past their building.

Encourage Cycling and Walking

When you think of people visiting a church, you normally think about them arriving by car. Visitor parking is allocated. Signs are placed to point from the visitor parking to the main entrance. But do we stop to think about the people who live near the building? If you live on the same block as a church, are you going to get in your car, drive a few yards, just so you can park near the building? But how easy is it to walk? Do you have to walk through the grass? Is there a way to take a shortcut through the building, rather than walking around to the front? If you ride a bicycle, is there a place to lock your bike? Is it covered, to protect it if it rains?

But don’t just make it easy to walk or cycle to church. Encourage your members to walk or cycle to church. When I ride my bicycle to church, I don’t ride the busy six-lane road our building is on. Instead, I cut through the neighborhood. Alone the way, I see kids playing in the street. I see people out walking the dog. I see people mowing their yards. Do you realize what we could do with that? “Come, go to church with me,” you say as you meet someone in the street. And even if we didn’t, people are going to take notice if they see someone dressed for church riding a bicycle.

It isn’t just that churches need to take part in the community. Churches need to develop the sense of community.