Church Success Comes from Assembling Together
With our church in the process of launching small groups as a way of building more community on our congregation, I’ve been thinking lately about the need for such closeness.
In his sermon about this initiative, our pastor read from Acts 2:42-47, the classic case study for authentic church growth.
Especially the last two verses of that passage: “And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (MEV).
A Different World
I still puzzle over how to replicate the closeness of a people in an agrarian society who usually walked everywhere with today’s highly mobile, always-online, and ever-connected world.
It isn’t just that we live in a mobile society where 95 percent of the people at any Sunday services likely drove there.
It’s that a number of them aren’t there that often.
Our pastor cited a survey that found average church members consider themselves regulars if they show up twice a month.
I know this also from interviewing a number of pastors in recent years. When I ask about their average attendance, I get such answers as: “It depends what Sunday it is” or “That’s a floating target.”
When people treat church as another option on their “to do” lists, they aren’t likely to develop the kind of fellowship described in Acts 2.
However, such closeness won’t develop by browbeating people, scheduling high-attendance days to encourage members to invite everyone they know, or trying to “guilt” folks into showing up more.
It’s a work of the Holy Spirit, drawing people together in the koinonia fellowship where they love their brothers and sisters in Christ and want to spend time with them.
Ironically, this kind of fellowship seems often to take place when folks are starting a new church and meeting in coffee shops, restaurants or cafés to review plans while sharing life together and praying for each other.
Then comes . . . success. The small group becomes large, the modest-size church becomes big, and the fellowship that drew them together in the first place fizzles.
The AA Model
Since we are just venturing into this territory, it’s hard to say how our small groups will go. But I hope we learn from an article that appeared in the May issue of Christianity Today, titled “Small Groups Anonymous.”
In it, Biola University professor Kent Dunnington wrote about how the best small groups can take a cue from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its famed “Twelve Steps.”
Among the things Dunnington brought out were how AA groups are so honest, with participants shedding all pretenses.
They are there because they’re desperate and recognize their need for help.
As Dunnington put it: “Much of the disarming candor and vulnerability characteristic of AA meetings is the fruit of desperation. . . . They are fighting to survive. Like soldiers on a mission, they prefer group silence over small talk.”
Of course, our pastor noted that the kind of safe environment where members are willing to divulge details of their lives won’t happen overnight.
Which brings me to another point in the CT story.
For AA groups to succeed, they must meet sustainably and often. No potluck suppers or fancy trappings, just honest discussion at least once a week.
Those with desperate struggles can go more often.
Therein lies the secret of duplicating Acts 2: we must meet together often. If more church members don’t assemble regularly, we will wither spiritually in isolation.