At church we're going through a 'vision process' at the mo, just re-adressing where we are and what is God saying to the church for the next season. It's been an interesting few months. I don't think I am speaking out of turn by saying that there have been tears, laughter, much prayer, consideration, hurt feelings, revelations but above all a strong desire to go where God is leading us.
Part of that has been looking at being more missional, reaching out more to our communities and what that means for us as individuals and us as a church. And that is not at all clear cut!
Community for me is the place I live, it's the people I say hello to on the walk to school, it's the mums at the school gate, or at tennis club, or ballet, it's the people in the village cafe, the locals at the pub. I work for the church (and of course that is part of my community, although not physically) but for the main I live in a village and my kids have been at school here, their friends are largely here, we often socialise here (in fact before we joined our church my life was almost wholly based here). These are the people I see almost daily, the people I chat to at the park or the school gate, often the people we spend time with. But for my husband, although I know he lives living here, it's not the same. He has a 'boys club' that meets at the pub once a month but for the most part he spends most of his time at work. And he doesn't even see the same people each day, he works in various places. For him he spends far more time with people from church than he does anywhere else, so his main community is the church one.
For some who commute or work full time, their community might be those they spend the train journey with each day, or their work colleagues.
I find being in a village as we are, a real community, it's a place where people look out for each other, say hello to one another and so on. But as a colleague pointed out the other day, not everyone has that. Those who live in towns maybe don't have such a strong sense of pull to their geographical area. We have friends who live in a lovely small close in a big town and it could be a wonderful place where the kids play out and have fun with each other, and yet they say people keep themselves to themselves, they don't really know their neighbours. Which seems such a shame. Perhaps it is just a different mentality. I mean, of the people who live here, some have lived here all their lives or they have family connections here, yet in the towns, especially those near commuter stations, many of those living there come because of the amenities, the station etc.
So as a church how do we address this? How can we 'do community' in a way that reaches all? or at least allows for all these differentiations?
In our church we encourage people to get into small groups, for support, fellowship and bible study. This helps people who maybe don't have a natural community around them but is it enough? What about those who can't do a mid week group - maybe they get back late from work? I'm really keen on social events partly for this purpose, and we encourage our volunteer teams to get together for socials each term, so they can spend time together outside of the busyness at church!
Aside from that, are our small groups reaching out? Are we reaching out? Are we impacting our geographical communities? If we meet in small groups in places other than where we live then being missional, reaching out, is much harder because we don't have a shared sense of identity about the location.
And these are all the things we are grappling with. All the things I am grappling with! I'm currently reading 'Launching Missional Communities' by Mike Breen and Alex Absolom. It is such an eye opener! There are many things that are actually so obvious but just haven't occurred to us!
One of the things that has really stood out to me, is that a community is one where the members have a shared interest or passion. That's such a simple definition but seems to cover all bases. So that interest might be your geographical community, the place where you all live, or it might be a shared passion for an activity like walking or art and craft, or it could be your family needs, kids of the same age etc. And I think this really is they key to a community, that if the members come together in this way, their interest in their activity or area etc will be fuelled by their own passions, that they can feed off each other and encourage each other, that they are led by those desires, from within, rather than being led by the church.
It's certainly an interesting time for us and an exciting one too. No decisions have been made yet but there are lots of interesting and exciting ideas being discussed. I can feel the interest being piqued within the church, people are getting enthused, passions are being ignited. And I can't wait to see where God takes us with all this!