There are things that are bugging me about Joseph Myers’ book, The Search To Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups.
- Being a part of that american church leadership crowd, he totally bends stories from the Bible to try to sanctify his point. It’s unnecessary and completely annoying. The Roman Centurion telling Jesus to not come over, “just say the word and my servant will be healed,” didn’t come from the Centurions’ deeply felt public connection to Jesus. Myers is probably right, the dude didn’t need to attend a small group in order to feel more connected … but still.
- Myers seems to be writing from this view of either american cultural Christianity, or he’s got a hangover from Christendom. There seems to be no in/out point. There’s no talk of conversion, or growth towards maturity and Christ-likeness. The end-game is individuals feeling connected. If people never attend, but feel connection to your church, then that’s just great.
- It’s all about the individuals feelings. He hasn’t yet engaged with the possibility that the human heart is a vain, self-centred, deceitful thing. People who in fact are deeply connected, valued and loved can still be lied to by their feelings, to feel isolated, lonely, redundant. Feelings are wonderful, yet fickle things.
However, it’s still a good read. I’m equipped to understand people better when they say they don’t feel welcome or connected at church. I’m being challenged to think about why we do what we do, and what—as leaders—we’re aiming, hoping and praying for in people.
I want to incorporate the 4 spaces idea into my thinking for my new job. At Seaforth Anglican, we’re on about building lives for Christ. Similarly, at North Epping Anglican, we’ve been on about the same thing in more words: people being transformed by Jesus’ love, growing in their love for one another, impacting the world with Christ’s love.
Connect - Grow - Serve.
Both statements imply what Myers doesn’t seem keen to write about (yet; I’m only ⅓ of the way through): growth towards maturity. All Saints uses the language of transformation. Seaforth uses the imagery of building. Both mean movement. Not being satisfied with where we are, but growing to become more like Jesus.
So I think I’m justified in my discontent with people who attend church only when their name is on the roster. Their feelings of connectedness is not the end-game. Their growth to maturity in Christ is. Their ‘being presented fully mature in Christ’ is what I’m concerned about. I can’t control that, but I can create spaces where people can do things together that will contribute to that goal; maturity in Christ. Myers calls this ‘creating environments where people can spontaneously connect’. I want to modify that a bit …
On that note, I read a couple of chapters of another book a few months ago; Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture by Brian H. Cosby. I need to get back to that one; it’s good.
Cosby’s idea is that youth ministry will see greater success (which he defines as growth to maturity) by relying on God’s grace, rather than our ability to attract and entertain a crowd.
And so his vision of youth ministry is to use the means of grace: those things through which God usually distributes his grace: the Word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, prayer, service and community.
My homework now is to think through what those 4 spaces will look like in the program I build, and how we might use the means of grace in those spaces.
Holiday reading: The Search To Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups by Joseph Myers.
Thoughts: Myers has some very interesting views regarding the small group movement. But it’s obvious he’s critiquing a very american flavour of small groups, that looks more like deep intimate sharing of private details for the sake of ‘connection’ and prayer, rather than our english/australian evangelical small groups that seem to focus more on exegeting a passage of scripture with a bit of application and then prayer (with a bbq together at the end of each term for the sake of celebration and connection).
His views are that when we try to move people to greater connection within our churches by getting people committed to small groups, we force our definition of ‘belonging’ onto them. And he thinks that’s not really working. He quotes that the most successful small group ministries in churches are seeing around 30-35% attendance rate of church members in small groups.
He points out that feeling connected is a personal thing. Some who are involved in every single thing a church runs can still feel desperate for connection. Some who turn up to church once in a while can feel deeply connected and committed, despite rarely being there.
This is because there are 4 spaces where people connect - think concentric circles.
Widest is public: this is like attending a football game and feeling a sense of connection with the crowd; high-fiving strangers when your team scores a try. I think he’s going to suggest that these are our sunday gatherings (particularly in the mega-church circles he seems to move about in).
The next space is the social space: think more like a party … slightly connected individuals being together in a smaller space. I’m thinking that in church, this is the niche kind of ministries like youth groups, mens/womens groups or events, senior fellowship etc. Connection here is more about the smaller crowd sharing a common identity.
Then there’s the personal space: cliques, tighter friendship groups, small groups/bible study groups/home groups/growth groups/whatever-your-church-calls-them groups. These are usually limited in size (~10-12), and work best when they’re based around either existing friendship groups, or spontaneous connection. He’s going to say that this is where our small groups should belong, whereas a lot of american small group resource material suggests they should belong to the 4th space:
Intimate space. Myers says (and I agree) that we can only really maintain a couple of intimate relationships at a time—a spouse, a close friend/confidante. So lumping small groups here doesn’t work. It’s enforced intimacy that some are craving, and enjoy, but most end up feeling exhausted by.
A couple of chapters in, Myers tells us that we should just let people connect spontaneously, where they already feel connected. It’s quite post-modern. If someone feels a deep connection with God and their brothers and sisters in Christ by attending one sunday a month, then in Myers’ mind, that’s fine. Stop trying to impose your definition of belonging onto them by trying to get them there every week! Stop trying to run their life by getting them to sign a 100% attendance commitment at a small group!
Alternatively, for those who are trying everything, but not feeling connected, the 4 spaces is a helpful diagnostic tool; in which space are they feeling disconnected? Which space are they craving connection in? And then how can we help them to either appreciate what connection they already have in the other spaces, or help them find meaningful ways of connecting?
More to come…
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